Our 2017 Client Survey has revealed that more than 17% of companies have launched criminal proceedings as a result of reports received through our independent ‘speak up’ service.

Almost half of survey respondents admitted to having dismissed employees or vendors (with regard to their conduct) as a result of reports received through Expolink’s channels, while 20% said reports had led to the recovery of company funds or assets.

This year’s survey also revealed:

  • Fewer than 1-in-5 organisations train managers on how to handle a ‘speak up’ report
  • Nine-in-ten organisations believe employees are more likely to speak up if an independent hotline has been deployed
  • 42% of companies do not measure their hotline’s effectiveness
  • More than 90% do not share the outcomes of cases with employees

Our survey respondents

Our 2017 Client Survey was conducted between September and November 2017. It includes responses from more than 100 organisations using Expolink’s and InTouch’s speak up services.

Organisations that responded to our survey range in size from under 1,000 employees (21%) to 50,000+ employees (7%). Almost half (49%) have between 1,000 and 10,000 employees.

Of the organisations surveyed, the majority have deployed our services within the UK (92%) and Europe (50%). More than one-quarter have made our service available within North America (38%), Asia (33%); the Middle East, North Africa and Greater Arabia (30%), and Australia and Oceania (28%).

Respondents to our survey span a broad range of sectors and industries, with manufacturing, financial services and retail organisations accounting for around 52% of responses.

FINDING #1: Companies increasingly see hotlines as ‘deterrents’

Unsurprisingly, respondents overwhelmingly identified giving ‘employees confidence to report issues’ as the top reason for offering an independent hotline, giving it an average importance value of 4.9 out of 5 (up slightly on last year’s score of 4.7).

Client-Survey-2017-why-offer-hotline

However, the ‘deterrent’ effect of an independent hotline (4.37) is now ranked the third-most important reason – up from 4.01 in 2016.

Despite a raft of new guidance and legislation coming into effect globally in the past 12 months, the role of ‘legal and regulatory requirements’ has declined slightly (falling from 3.94 to 3.69), while pressure from shareholders appears to have become a more important factor (increasing from 1.9 to 2.2).

FINDING #2: Companies value external channels, but fail to measure their impact

The convenience, anonymity, or accessibility of certain channels can all influence an employee’s willingness to raise a concern. Offering the widest possible range of reporting options (including external channels) can help remove barriers to reporting, and encourage more employees to speak up.

This year’s results suggest that most clients agree with this viewpoint – more than 91% of respondents said employees are more likely to speak up if an independent hotline is made available to them.

Yet despite widespread confidence in an external service, almost 42% of respondents told us they don’t formally measure the effectiveness of their hotline.

Client-Survey-2017-how-measure-effectiveness

Among those clients that do measure hotline effectiveness, ‘number of reports received’ (51%) is the most popular measure, followed by ‘seriousness of issues raised’ (33%). Almost one-quarter measure the volume of ‘substantiated’ reports (24%) or those resulting in ‘corrective action’ (23%).

Only 17% use ‘employee feedback’ to help measure the effectiveness of their service.

Regarding the frequency of service reviews, an annual interval (32%) is most common. A further 14% told us they review their service monthly, 16% quarterly, and 5% evaluate it every 2-3 years. However, more than one-third of respondents told us they don’t formally review their hotline’s effectiveness.

FINDING #3: ‘Traditional’ promotional tactics persist

Building awareness of a hotline service remains a significant challenge for companies of all sizes. We regularly offer advice to clients trying to promote their hotline to a diverse audience spanning multiple languages, environments and levels of understanding.

As organisations become ever more complex, these challenges continue to grow – but this year’s survey shows that the ‘traditional’ promotional techniques are still the most widespread.

‘Posters or other printed display items’ (87%), ‘Company intranet’ (75%) and ‘HR Documentation’ (70%) remain the most popular tactics – just as they were in 2016.

Client-Survey-2017-how-promote-hotline

Our discussions with clients have revealed many are now attempting to tackle communication these challenges with tailored messaging that’s more likely to connect with specific employee segments.

Adoption of video (used by 8% of respondents), anonymised examples of real-life cases (used by 9%) and user-generated content suggest more organisations are professionalising their approach to marketing the service internally.

FINDING #4: Training gap among managers exposes significant risks

Recent high-profile sexual harassment allegations have shown, once again, that ‘speaking up’ relies on a ‘listen up’ management culture.

Within several globally-recognised companies, the concerns raised by employees have all-too-often fallen on deaf ears – or been aggressively silenced – at management level.

Results from this year’s survey highlight a widespread management training gap may be contributing to the issue. Among the clients we surveyed, only 17% told us they offer formal training to managers on how to handle a whistleblowing report.

Given that the vast majority of concerns are raised internally (Whistleblowing – The Inside Story, Public Concern at Work), either at line manager or middle management level, management training is an area that all organisations should review as a matter of priority.

FINDING #5: Substantiation rates as a success indicator

Monitoring how many reports prove to be ‘substantiated’ is used by 24% of clients as a measure of hotline effectiveness.

However, it can also help reveal how well employees and suppliers know and understand your code of conduct, their understanding of your speak up service’s purpose, and the quality of your investigations process.

Encouragingly, more than one-fifth of clients told us that at least 40% of the reports received through our hotline service were substantiated.

Client-Survey-2017-substantiation-rates

FINDING #6: 50% have ‘dismissed’ perpetrators as a result of reports

Another measure of hotline effectiveness, as reported by our clients, is the outcomes it has helped bring about. This year’s survey revealed that 86% of respondents have taken some form of corrective action as a result of the reports they have received.

Client-Survey-2017-actions-taken

Survey respondents highlighted ‘improvement of internal controls’ (62%), policy changes (50%) and ‘dismissal’ of an employee or vendor (50%) as a result of reports received about them.

Interestingly, 17% have commenced ‘criminal proceedings’ following a disclosure, while 20% said reports had enabled them to recover company assets or funds – both up compared to last year’s result.

A further 14% of clients told us that they didn’t know of any actions taken, suggesting an absence of formal incident tracking and reporting processes.

What do these results tell us?

This year’s survey has once again highlighted the value an external speak up service can offer organisations of all sizes.

Making speaking up safe and accessible not only increases reporting rates, but can also encourage the discloser to share more detail, contributing to a more effective investigation.

Shift in service adoption motivators?

It’s of little surprise to see that ‘giving employees confidence’ remains the key motivator for organisations employing external channels.

As more than 90% of respondents will attest, giving employees the option of an independent reporting channel helps build trust and gives people confidence to speak up – particularly where there is a reluctance to use internal routes.

However, the emerging role of hotlines as ‘deterrents’ reflects a trend that we have increasingly seen in our conversations with several organisations over the past year, and one we expect to grow (alongside regulatory and legal influences) in the months ahead.

Widening gap between ‘leaders’ and ‘box tickers’

Evidence suggests that data gathered through speak up reports are increasingly leading to corrective actions. Reports resulting in recovery of funds, policy reviews and dismissals are significantly up versus 2016.

Meanwhile, there are signs that some companies are taking an increasingly sophisticated approach to the subject. This is evidenced by gradual adoption of ‘new’ promotional tactics, analysis of a broader range of success metrics, and an increase in the proportion of companies linking reports to ‘outcomes’.

Yet despite this, there are signs that many organisations’ speak up service remain on the peripheries. A slight increase in the proportion of respondents that do not formally measure the effectiveness of their hotline is a cause for concern, as is the widespread absence of training for managers.

As the very visible shift towards corporate transparency, accountability and ethical practices continues at pace, it’s clear those organisations who continue to neglect the role of an effective speak up programme do so at their considerable risk.