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Confidential advisors must improve professionalism

07 November 2011

The role of a confidential advisor has become much more demanding over the years. Confidential advisors not only have to support and guide the victims of sexual intimidation, but also intervene in situations involving bullying, aggression and discrimination at work. The profession is simply not professional enough; it is high time for a certified training programme, states behavioural scientist Carla Goosen. ‘This is not a job you can just do on the side, which is often the case.’ She will be awarded a PhD for her research by the University of Groningen on 17 November.   

Sexual intimidation, bullying, aggression and discrimination at work – Dutch employers are obliged by law to protect their employees against them. And that’s where the confidential advisor plays a crucial role. If there is not a good confidential advisor and an employee becomes ill or stressed out as a result of excessive psychosocial strain, then the employer could face a hefty claim for damages. Vice versa, if there is a confidential advisor but the employee has not consulted him or her, then the employer cannot be considered liable. 

Duties and competences

No matter how important the confidential advisor is, he or she is often not independent enough. There is no recognized certificate and it is often a job that one of the employees does ‘on the side’ – or not at all. ‘It’s still possible to hang a sign saying confidential advisor on your door and do virtually nothing’, according to PhD candidate Carla Goosen. She analysed the experiences of confidential advisors and professionals who deal regularly with confidential advisors, including behavioural scientists, lawyers and policymakers. She used this to determine the duties of confidential advisors, and which competences they should have. In addition to knowledge about behaviour, confidential advisors need legal and organizational knowledge, Goosen concluded.  

Recognized certificate

Confidential advisors must be able to support and guide staff faced with psychosocial strain, provide them with information and advise managers about bottlenecks in policy, both on request and unsolicited, Goosen established. She also charted all the subduties and required competences in detail. The research lays the foundations for a new, certified and in future compulsory training programme for confidential advisors, which the Landelijke Vereniging van Vertrouwenspersonen (LVV; National Society of Confidential Advisors) will develop from January 2012 in consulation with training institutes.  

Demanding job

The new training programme should guarantee that a confidential advisor is better prepared for the job and will function completely independently. Goosen: ‘It’s a demanding and rather solitary position. You have to be able to stick to your guns in difficult situations. You have to be approachable for the employees and you must be able to guarantee them 100% confidentiality. That’s why the position cannot be combined with a job as staff welfare officer, occupational health physician or HRM officer. At the same time you have to send signals to managers in the event of misuse of power. In those situations you have to stand your ground.’  

Spare a lot of misery

By preventing psychosocial strain, or recognizing it at an early stage, a professional confidential advisor can spare employers and employees a lot of misery, according to Goosen. ‘A great deal of damage can be prevented in the pre-legal phase. Complaints procedures between parties, or court cases between employee and employer, are not only really expensive, they’re also really bad for the atmosphere in a company. Before you know it, an employer can see its best staff leaving.’  

Curriculum Vitae

Carla Goosen (Wijhe, 1953) works as a therapist in mental healthcare (GGZ) and as a confidential advisor, complaints investigator and mediator. In 2005 she gained a Master’s in Dispute Resolution at the University of Amsterdam; she is now being awarded a PhD in Behavioural and Social Sciences. Her supervisors were Prof. M.C. Timmerman and Prof. A.E.M.G. Minnaert. Her thesis is entitled ‘In vertrouwen. Een onderzoek naar de professionaliteit van de vertrouwenspersoon seksuele intimidatie’ [In confidence. An investigation of the professionalism of a confidential advisor for sexual intimidation].  

More information

via the Communication Office, tel. +3150363 4444, email: communication


Last modified:13 March 2020 01.55 a.m.
View this page in: Nederlands

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