“I give people concrete help with the problems they're facing”

Aurélie de Francesco © 2021 EPFL

Aurélie de Francesco © 2021 EPFL

Aurélie de Francesco, a mediator specialized in conflict management in the workplace, has been EPFL’s Person of Trust for the past five years. Her experience has been positive, and she’s looking forward to continuing to help EPFL implement concrete measures.

Aurélie de Francesco is a lawyer who specializes in employment law, mediation and conflict management in the workplace. She is also EPFL’s Person of Trust, whose services are offered free of charge to all EPFL students and staff who need someone to talk to about work- or study-related problems. “My role is to provide individual support to people who are struggling with a difficult situation,” says de Francesco. “It may involve their dealings with others – such as conflict situations, communication problems, allegations of bullying or mobbing, allegations of sexual harassment, or disrespectful or inappropriate behavior – or personal problems like having too much work or not enough, experiencing burnout, losing motivation, feeling stressed or not performing up to par.” All of her appointments are anonymous and strictly confidential.

To help the people who come see her, she draws on a variety of tools and methods. “I often use a systemic, strategic approach developed in Palo Alto because it’s highly pragmatic and solution-oriented,” says de Francesco. “Otherwise, I generally use mediation to encourage dialogue between the parties. My role also involves helping spot broader problems at EPFL and working with upper management to implement effective policies for psychosocial risk prevention.”

A positive experience and concrete steps

De Francesco has handled around 300 cases since she was appointed Person of Trust in January 2017. “It’s been a great experience. I’ve been able to establish a climate of trust with the people who’ve come to see me, and I’ve set up a constructive dialogue and collaboration with both HR and upper management,” she says.

EPFL’s goal is to provide a safe, pleasant working environment for everyone. And to that end, the School has worked with de Francesco to introduce various measures based on her observations as the Person of Trust. “After I pointed out some general trends and problems I’d seen, EPFL began giving conflict management training to managers. The School also clarified how incidents of harassment should be handled by creating a new webpage that provides all the necessary information in an easy-to-use format,” says de Francesco. In the future, she’d like to help introduce additional measures at EPFL to manage conflict as well as psychosocial risks more effectively.

Problems with communication and mutual trust

The pandemic and the resulting shift to remote working and online classes have obviously affected de Francesco’s work. Now her appointments are held virtually for the most part. “That hasn’t diminished the quality of my discussions with individuals seeking help, and I’ve even been able to hold successful mediation sessions online. While remote working hasn’t reduced the number of cases I handle, it has changed the issues involved. Now I’m seeing more problems related to poor communication and a lack of mutual trust, which often stem from the absence of face-to-face interaction,” she says.

De Francesco sends out a survey every year to the people she has worked with. “The feedback I’ve gotten so far has been very positive in terms of effectiveness and satisfaction. I have the impression that I’m able to give people concrete help with the problems they’re facing, and more broadly, that I can help EPFL implement effective measures for mitigating psychosocial risks across its community,” says de Francesco. “It’s a very gratifying job.”

You can contact Aurélie de Francesco at [email protected]

For more information about the Person of Trust, visit https://personne-de-confiance.ch/en/

Fees for the Person of Trust service are covered by EPFL.