Your employees are your best source of risk intelligence. It’s therefore important to enable and encourage employees to speak up about potentially damaging behaviour in workplace.

The changing face of workplace “whistleblowing”

Historically, “whistleblowing” (as a concept and label) has been weighed down by negative perceptions and connotations. High profile cases played out in the media, coupled with public and private victimisation of those who speak up, have continued to fuel this dangerous narrative.

But things are changing.

In the past decade, corporate “speak up” programmes have become the norm. In the UK, more than 64% of respondents to the IBE’s 2018 Ethics at Work Survey said their company provides the means to report misconduct confidentially.

Meanwhile lawmakers, governments and society in general is mobilizing to reject and tackle unethical conduct, and encourage more open workplace cultures.

4 ways to encourage a speak up culture in your organisation

It’s impossible to change your culture overnight. But there are a number of steps you can take that will help encourage your people to speak up and report their workplace concerns.

1. Implement a whistleblowing policy and programme

First things first: if you haven’t already done so, you should implement a whistleblowing policy and programme as soon as possible.

Your policy will encourage people to come forward and voice their concerns. It should signpost how people can go about raising their concerns, explain what will happen next, and provide information about what measures are in place to protect disclosers (whistleblowers) from any reprisals.

Developing your programme to include confidential reporting channels and clear, robust investigation processes will show your employees that when they’re ready to speak up, your organisation is ready to listen.

Communication of your policy and programme is critical, and should involve full “buy in” from your senior and middle management teams. Setting the right tone will make it easier to cultivate a positive speak up culture.

2. Train your people

The next step is to train all of your people (from entry level to CEO). Your training can take many forms, but as a bare minimum it should include:

  • How (and why) you can raise a report
  • How reports will be handled and processed
  • How those who speak up will be protected

You should also take steps to formally train people who are likely to receive or handle whistleblowing reports (this will be a requirement under the new EU Whistleblowing Directive).

Training is not just a great way to communicate your whistleblowing program with your people, it’s will also show them their really does matter.

Speaking up against your colleague can be a fearful and thankless task. By training your people about how whistleblowers will be protected from retaliation will help put those fears at rest, which could lead to more reports and prevent people taking their concerns outside the organisation.

Using case studies in training can be powerful too. By showing what happens when a report is raised and what happened as a direct result of it, it’s possible to dispel much of the fear and uncertainty that surrounds speaking up.

3. Respond to every report

It’s important to acknowledge and respond to every report – regardless of its content. This will prove to your people that all reports will be listened to.

Establishing a two-way line of communication doesn’t just create a positive user experience; it will also make it easier to follow up with the discloser with requests for further information. And, if an employee has a positive experience with your service they are likely to tell their colleagues (although it’s important to remember this can work both ways).

Under the new EU Whistleblowing Directive it will be a requirement to provide feedback to every whistleblowing report and keep people informed about their disclosure.

4. Prevent retaliation

If you want receive high-quality risk intelligence from your employees, you will need to put measures in place that protect the disclosers from retaliation. This is vital for the success of your speak up program.

If an employee knows a fellow colleague has been treated less favourably after raising a concern, it is likely to prevent other employees from coming forward.

Retaliation against those who speak up is illegal in many countries (including the UK), and will be outlawed across the EU under the new Whistleblowing Directive. The Directive also introduces safeguards to prevent whistleblowers (as well as those assisting whistleblowers such as colleagues, relatives etc) from facing demotions, suspensions, bullying or any other form of reprisals.

Still unsure how to prevent whistleblower retaliation?

Check out our 6 step guide.

The risks of discouraging whistleblowing

Discouraging employees from speaking up won’t cause organisational issues to simply “go away”. Instead, your people are likely to become frustrated, stressed and disengaged. They may even resort to finding other channel through which they can share their concerns.

This could mean they take what they know externally to a regulator, share it on a social media platform or give it to a media outlet.

Why all organisations need to embrace change

Within society, it’s clear that people are more prepared than ever to call out unacceptable or unethical behaviour. This is backed by our own research which shows employees are now 57% more likely to speak up about workplace misconduct than they were two years ago.

As more countries across the EU and beyond move to strengthen their whistleblower protection laws, organisations will need to take steps to improve their own internal processes – or face the consequences.

Promoting your whistleblowing service is key to the success of your Speak Up programme.

View our tips on how to promote you hotline with our guide.