High-profile scandals, changing regulation and new laws are forcing employers to improve the way they protect their staff, customers and wider public.

As a result, more employers looking at ways to enable their employees to share their workplace concerns safely and easily.

A whistleblowing hotline or ‘Speak Up’ channel, through which employees can disclose those concerns, is a vital tool in this context. Implemented correctly, it will empower your employees to tell you about workplace issues, and give you the chance to put things right.

But what pitfalls should you look out for when implementing a hotline, and what factors will influence its effectiveness?

Here, we outline the “must have” features for your service to give it the best possible chance of success.

1. Positive objectives

Before looking at any of the technical considerations, think about the core objectives you want to build your service around. For instance, are you aiming to create a more open culture, tackle known issues, de-risk your business – or something else altogether?

Even if you face a sceptical internal audience, positive intentions will be visible and will build trust. However, treating your hotline as a “tick box exercise” (or worse) will breed distrust and damage your chances of receiving any meaningful reports.

A 2018 survey showed that the most common reason European employees don’t report workplace misconduct is because they believe nothing will be done about it (IBE Ethics at Work: 2018 Survey of Employees)

2. Accessibility

Ensure the channel – or channels – you offer are relevant to your users.

For instance, if your employees work outdoors, a telephone or voicemail service may be more accessible or convenient than a web reporting platform.  If you have a multilingual workforce, you’re more likely to receive reports if they can submit a report in their chosen language too.

Cost-free access to your channels (e.g. toll-free telephone numbers, web channels) will also remove potential barriers to reporting.

The need for choice and accessibility is backed by our own Benchmarking data, which shows location, language, and working environment all influence reporting behaviour.

Researching hotline providers?

Discover the 71 questions that will help you choose the right supplier for your organisation.

3. Availability

Much like the channels you offer, the availability of your service to would-be users is crucial.

A reporting hotline that is only available during working hours might discourage some people from making a report. A 24-hour service, meanwhile, will enable people to raise their concern discreetly away from the workplace or at home.

Users should also be able access your channels no matter where they are. Offering a range of reporting channels will help you cover most eventualities.

Almost 15% of Disclosures submitted through our reporting channels are received outside of normal 8am-6pm working hours (UK data).

4. Empathy

Speaking up requires a great deal of courage – especially if you’re concerned that your report might result in retaliation against you.

Preventing anonymous reporting, using rigid ‘transactional’ questioning, or attempting to rush a telephone report are all potential alarm signals that may discourage the user from continuing.

Because of this, it’s important to reassure Disclosers and treat them in a way that encourages the sharing of information.

Our research shows that Disclosers are twice as likely to reveal their identity when speaking with a highly-trained, empathetic Hotline Operator, than they are when reporting via the web or voicemail (Expolink Whistleblowing Benchmarking Report 2018)

5. Transparency

Uncertainty about who will see a report, and how it will be investigated, can create doubt and distrust in the mind of the Discloser. This may cause them to keep their concerns to themselves, rather than report them.

Although you can’t share the details of each report, you can be open about who will receive/see a report, and how the investigation process works.

Sharing statistics, or even case studies highlighting successful outcomes, can go a long way to building trust among your employees.

Organisations that communicate their investigation processes with employees receive a higher volume of reports than those that don’t.

6. Security

Given the sensitivity of the information involved, and the risks (real and perceived) associated with speaking up, the security of your service must be a key consideration.

Organisations must put measures in place to protect the identity of the Discloser, and those who may be the subject of a report. This should include restricted access to report data, and the secure transmission of data in line with the relevant data protection requirements.

Enabling anonymous Disclosers to talk to investigators (whilst maintaining their anonymity) will not only breed trust, but also make for a more effective investigation.

New EU whistleblowing laws say organisations must offer “clear reporting channels” that ensure confidentiality.

Put the Discloser in control

Accessibility and openness should be core features of any Speak Up service. In our experience, the most effective Speak Up services are those that empower their users, giving them a feeling of confidence and control.

However, it’s important to recognise that each organisation will face its own specific challenges. Before you create a new service, or update your existing provision, try to get feedback from people you want to use your service. For instance:

  • What stops them from speaking up?
  • Do they know how to raise a concern?
  • Do they have confidence something would be done about it?

By combining user insights with a best practice approach, you can be confident your service will deliver meaningful benefits to your business, and empower your employees.