For many businesses the term ‘Whistleblowing’ is still seen as a threat. In a world where employees can disclose damaging information about what goes on inside their organisation to any number of public platforms, at any time, and with relatively robust legal protection, it’s not hard to see why.

But the term ‘Whistleblowing’ is not something to be afraid of. For the majority of business leaders the fear surrounding whistleblowing is about losing control of a situation. If an issue is brought to light outside of the organisation it is much harder to resolve, not to mention potentially devastating for a company’s reputation, both with the public and its own people.

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With the right attitude and appropriate procedure, a whistleblower going public should never need to happen. In this article we will share the four key steps you can take to help you manage whistleblowing in the workplace:

  1. Challenge your perception of Whistleblowing
  2. Empower your people to Speak Up internally
  3. Communicate that the issues raised will be investigated
  4. Act with integrity to resolve the issue

Step 1: Challenge your perception of Whistleblowing

In recent years, several nations and industry sectors around the world have introduced new laws designed to reform the way whistleblowing is handled in the workplace. In many cases, a change of legislation offers enhanced legal protections, which in turn can lead to a rise in the likelihood of a whistleblower making a report.

We recently reported that internal Whistleblowing rates have risen by 57% in the last two years. The cultural shift towards ‘Speaking Up’ about wrongdoing, fueled in part by the dramatic #MeToo movement, is becoming increasingly apparent. 

While legislation and societal movements are driving whistleblower confidence and momentum, it will take strong corporate leadership and organisational culture to ensure confident whistleblowers report internally first. This requires a perception shift.

Gain visibility of issues before they escalate

Your employees are your greatest source of risk intelligence. If something was going on in your organisation without your knowledge, wouldn’t you want to find out? The largest risks to companies are typically unlawful activity, such as Theft or Fraud, Bribery / Corruption, significant concerns around Health & Environmental Safety, or any other Breach of Policy.

Whistleblowing is not exclusive to illegal activity, in fact it is often triggered by interpersonal events happening deep within the organisation. Data from our own benchmarking reports show that for the last two years HR-related issues have consistently been the most reported worldwide across the majority of business sectors. Issues like Unprofessional Behaviour, Bullying, Discrimination or Harassment were the second and third most common overall.

Understand the desire to speak up comes from a good place

Speaking up about an issue takes a lot of courage – even if the discloser’s identity remains protected. The desire to report and resolve issues comes from wanting to change an organisation for the better, and is sometimes done out of concern for the welfare or well-being of other employees.

It is therefore vital for business leaders to understand the reasons why an employee might want to speak up in the first place. What issues could be taking place in your business? Do those affected feel able to come forward? Creating safe reporting channels for your employees is the first step towards establishing trust and reaching a resolution.

See also: What is whistleblowing and why is it viewed negatively?

Step 2: Empower your people to Speak Up internally

In an ideal world, your employees will always come forward internally to a member of senior management to raise their concerns about issues in the workplace. Unfortunately, the real-world often presents circumstances that can leave employees feeling that this is not an option. With this in mind, it’s important to understand what puts an organisation at risk of a whistleblower going public in the first place.

Employees might feel unable to come forward internally due to a number of reasons including:

  • Fear of reprisal following a disclosure
  • Inability to report issues anonymously
  • Lack of faith that the issue will be resolved at all
  • The issue relates directly to a member of senior management
  • The issue has been previously reported and nothing has happened

Consider implementing a Whistleblowing Hotline

Employers should consider implementing a third party reporting channel, also known as a whistleblowing hotline, to provide a secure, confidential method of reporting. Employees may feel more comfortable speaking to someone outside their organisation, and as a result may be able to give better quality reports.

As well as a 24/7 hotline, many service providers offer additional channels such as Web Reporting and Mobile Apps, which can offer confidential reporting outside of traditional work hours. One of the key differentiators of using an external hotline is the ability to offer anonymous reporting, which can be difficult to facilitate internally.

Global data from our annual benchmarking report shows that last year 72% of whistleblowers chose to remain anonymous from their employer. Enabling your employees to submit anonymous reports could lead to a dramatic increase in reports, which you may not otherwise receive.

Encourage an Open-Door support culture

Reporting an issue can be difficult at the best of times, so it’s vital that employers establish a Speak Up process as straightforward as possible. Facilitating a friendly open-door policy for employees to come forward internally is always best practice. Over time this method may become more trusted and yield better results.

See also: 7 issues to consider when choosing your Speak Up channels

Step 3: Communicate that the issues raised will be investigated

Providing access to effective Speak Up channels will demonstrate to your employees that your organisation cares about what they have to say. If communicated well, a robust Speak Up program will provide you with a healthy influx of incident reports. A reliable source of risk intelligence will offer highly valuable insights into what’s going on inside your business.

Manage your investigation in the right way

It’s crucial that any reports made, whether through internal or external channels, are stored confidentially and securely. Having a central system to input, monitor, and update case details helps to ensure this while streamlining the investigative procedure. In larger organisations more complex solutions may be required to provide tools for deeper insight, or features designed for teams.

Implementing a robust Case Management solution specifically designed for these purposes can greatly reduce the pain points around how to handle a whistlebowing report. As such, your case management requirements should be carefully considered when choosing your Speak Up channels.

Keep disclosers in the loop

Ensure you are able to provide feedback to the reporting party as part of the investigation process. This assures them that the issue is being looked into and taken seriously. It also reinforces the message that Speaking Up is the right thing to do, which can prevent a whistleblower from going public with the information.

Where anonymous reporting is concerned, providing feedback is not always possible without a software solution. When using an external hotline provider, whistleblowers can disclose their details for the option to receive case updates – all the while keeping their identity hidden from their employer.

See also: 6 reasons you should provide feedback to whistleblowers

Step 4: Act with integrity to resolve the issue

Perhaps the most challenging phase of the Speak Up cycle takes place after the investigation process is complete. You have all the information and insight you need to make a decision and hopefully resolve the issue, but how can you be sure that you are doing the right thing?

Prepare yourself for difficult circumstances

The majority of incidents your organisation faces may be relatively straightforward to resolve. The ability to see what’s happening inside your organisation will make it much easier to recognise patterns of wrongdoing and make the necessary changes. Repeat offences will also be much easier to tie together, and preventative measures can be made earlier.

Some cases, however, will be more complex to resolve and may require an ongoing strategy. Cases involving immediate action will also require decisiveness, which can be challenging for senior management to handle on their own. The following approaches could help you prepare for challenging circumstances, but are also useful in any resolution narrative:

  • Stay up to date with Whistleblowing news and data trends in your industry
  • Seek insight or guidance from your peers on how they would handle similar issues
  • Undertake training, or recruit a specialist if you feel additional skills are needed

Become a catalyst for positive change in your organisation

By providing secure reporting channels for your employees and investigating incidents that arise, you will greatly reduce the risk of a whistleblower going public. Following this approach with strong leadership and integrity will help to ensure that issues are resolved, with a view to prevent similar situations arising in future.

Making positive changes will enable you to build long lasting trust with your employees, as well as your wider supply chain, professional network, and even the public. Over time your internal Speak Up channels may become a more appealing method of raising concerns, which will further reduce the risk of unwanted exposure.

See also: Discover the latest industry trends in our 2019 Client Insight Report

In Summary

Creating a sustainable, healthy Speak Up culture in the workplace is the best way to prevent a whistleblower going public about an internal issue. This is achievable through successive completion of four key steps, which are as follows:

1) Challenge your perception of whistleblowing

  • Whistleblowing rates have increased by 57% since 2017
  • Lack of visibility within your organisation increases risk
  • The desire to Speak Up comes from a good place
  • Whistleblowing requires courage, as well as support

2) Empower your people to Speak Up

  • Understand what stops employees from coming forward internally
  • Offer multiple, confidential reporting channels for your employees
  • Facilitate a trustworthy open-door approach to reporting
  • Give your employees access to anonymous reporting

3) Communicate that the issues raised will be investigated

  • Demonstrate that you are handling issues properly and with care
  • Streamline your investigative procedure with a Case Management system
  • More complex solutions may be required for larger organisations
  • Keep disclosers updated and supported with case feedback

4) Act with integrity to resolve the issue

  • Following the first three steps will greatly enhance visibility of issues
  • Most issues will be relatively straightforward to resolve
  • Prepare yourself for difficult circumstances, train or recruit if necessary
  • Seek insights into how other similar organisations operate

Questions?

Our specialists can provide expert consultation on Whistleblowing services, and the needs of your organisation. 

You can read more about the topic of Whistleblowing here.