Every faculty to have its own confidential contact

(21-03-2017) Within every faculty of Ghent University, one or more Ghent University employees will take on the role of contact for all psychosocial problems.

This includes various forms of unwanted and unacceptable behaviour, stress, burnout, bore-out, interpersonal conflict, harassment or discrimination.

The Psychosocial Well-being unit of the central administration currently employs three full-time confidential counsellors. The development of a network of confidential contacts within the faculties now marks an important, next step in a well-thought-through well-being policy.

Sara Drieghe“By developing a network of confidential contacts within the faculties, we want to lower the threshold for people in need of a listening ear in case of work-related problems”, says Sara Drieghe, who is the confidential counsellor within the central administration and the network’s coordinator.

“A few months ago, we asked all the faculties whether there were any Ghent University employees interested in becoming confidential counsellors.  We were looking for people who are discreet, caring, committed and diplomatic and who knew all the ins and outs of their faculty.  We found at least one such person in every faculty.  They followed training, among others in conversational techniques and also gained an insight into the legislative framework of well-being at work.”

Klaartje Vanopstal will soon become the confidential contact in the Faculty of Arts and Philosophy.

Klaar VanopstalKlaartje Vanopstal: “I’ve only been working in the faculty for a year, as a policy employee for educational support; before that, I was one of the ‘integrators’ from the VTC, the Department of Translation, Interpreting and Communication where I worked for a decade. When I saw the request last autumn for the confidential contact within the faculty, it immediately attracted my attention. I see it as a way to give the human aspect, which is something I feel is very important within a working environment, a place within my job."

"A training course is required for the position, which we completed at the end of March, but I am also happily studying other aspects of psychosocial well-being. I hope that this position will help to break down some barriers, and that people will be able to get their worries off their minds sooner.

David Mannaert will soon become the confidential counsellor in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences.

David Mannaert“The university’s focus on the well-being of its employees has become increasingly more prominent in recent years. This is why the idea of a welcoming, open community combined with attention to quality and ‘quali-time’, for example, have become two of the cornerstones within the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences’ updated Mission and Vision. Many other departments, not to mention the university administration itself, are also hard at work to make Ghent University even more of a great place to work.”

“It goes without saying that there is still quite a lot of work to be done, and that things can go wrong anytime and anywhere. It would be amazing if these things didn’t happen within an institution of this size. However, this takes nothing away from the fact that the university continues to invest with a view to a pleasant working environment where every Ghent University employee can feel comfortable. I personally have always felt that such a working environment is extremely important, which is also the reason why I immediately applied when I read the request for confidential counsellor candidates.”

“As the faculty’s confidential contacts – you could call us the ‘antennae’ of the university’s confidential counsellors – our first job will be to provide people with a sounding board, which is utterly discreet and confidential, for whatever reasons they might need us. This might not seem earth-shattering, but it often makes a difference for those colleagues involved. Making the time to listen, as an employer, to employees who are having a hard(er) time, often for various reasons, is an elementary form of respect in my opinion. The policy decision to develop a network of confidential counsellors also demonstrates the university’s absolute willingness to create a culture of trust and respect. So, in other words, ‘daring to listen’ as an essential component of the university’s vision concerns psychosocial well-being …"

Prevention and response

The prevention and response to psychosocial problems will form a tandem in Ghent University’s well-being policy.  The new confidential contacts will work closely with the central confidential counsellors to deal with specific reports of work-related problems with a psychosocial impact and to contribute to developing an approach to help prevent psychosocial problems.

The confidential contacts for example will share information about psychosocial well-being within their faculty, helping to raise awareness about this issue.  They are bound by a duty of discretion when employees contact them to ask advice or report problems.  They can always rely on the expertise of the central counsellors.

Sara Drieghe: “The confidential contacts work in their own faculty, and are employees themselves. They can recognise psychosocial risks at an early stage, bring them out into the open and tackle them by informing employees in a timely manner and referring them.  On the organisational level, such an anticipated, fast approach can positively influence the general atmosphere at work, as well as employees’ productivity and general wellbeing at work.”