If your organisation has a whistleblowing service in place, it’s likely it was implemented to protect your employees and enable them to report their concerns easily.
However, introducing a speak-up service is only the beginning. The way you deal with reports once they have been raised is critical to its overall success.
Providing feedback to people who raise a concern is a simple but effective way to demonstrate you operate a ‘listen up’ culture that reflects your ‘speak up’ message.
With that in mind, here are six reasons why feedback should be a core feature of your whistleblowing process:
1. It provides reassurance that it’s ok to speak up
For many people, Edward Snowden is the quintessential whistleblower. But instead of following internal channels, he took his concerns about his employer – the National Security Agency (NSA) – into the public domain and was forced to seek asylum overseas as a result.
Thankfully, most people can probably separate this extreme example from their own situation. But for every Snowden, there numerous relatable examples like Jennie Fecitt, who was dismissed and “blacklisted” by the NHS after speaking up about a fellow nurse who lied about their qualifications.
These examples suggest whistleblowers, and the concerns they raise, are generally ‘unwelcome’ in their organisations. But by offering feedback, you can begin to change that narrative.
Acknowledging a whistleblowing report provides reassurance that it has been received, read, and is valued. It also provides a signal to others, who may have workplace concerns, that whistleblowing is encouraged and taken seriously within the company.
Potential whistleblowers are often torn between wanting to do the right thing, whilst not wanting to experience retaliation, betray their colleagues or employer, or even lose their job.
Feedback is vital to showing your employees and suppliers that you value those who speak up, and take their concerns seriously.
2. It can prevent disgruntled whistleblowers from going public
Acknowledging issues internally before someone has the chance to take their concerns to the press, their social media followers or even to regulating bodies should be a priority for every organisation that values its reputation.
Thomas Drake, another high-profile whistleblower who worked at the NSA, tried to alert his superiors and Congress about alleged illegal activities within the Agency. But when nothing was done and his concerns ignored, he decided to go to the press.
Organisations need to acknowledge the whistleblowing report and provide feedback, regardless of whether the report is substantiated.
The acknowledgement and feedback the whistleblower receives is likely to create a connection as well as build trust between the employee and their speak up service.
By not providing feedback, or at the very least acknowledging a report that comes in, companies risk angering the employee who took the time to raise a report which could lead to them going to press.
3. It can help build employee loyalty
Making employees and suppliers feel valued will not only help build an open culture within your company, but it may also increase their loyalty towards it.
Herzberg’s theory of motivation has shown that employees like to feel valued – and often find it more motivating than financial reward. He also found that when employees receive recognition or a sense of being valued, they can be an even greater asset to their organisation.
This reinforces the idea that while a whistleblower doesn’t always have to be vindicated, providing feedback to let them know that their report is being investigated shows they are valued.
Keeping the employee updated throughout the process will give your whistleblowing service a good reputation.
4. It can create the “word of mouth” effect
According to Nielsen, 92% of people trust recommendations from other people, even if they don’t know them personally.
If people hear about a colleague’s positive experience, it may encourage others to come forward to reveal unethical behaviour within the workplace. A poor experience will likely have the opposite effect, and deter employees and supplier from coming forward.
By constructing a positive journey from beginning to end for the whistleblower, you’ll Increase the chances that service users will act as advocates for your service.
5. It encourages an open culture
Delivering feedback will show you’re listening and that you do genuinely want to protect your employees and suppliers. In turn, this will give employees confidence in the process, and in challenging inappropriate behaviour more openly.
A positive, ethical culture is a great way to differentiate yourself from your competitors. It takes commitment and energy, but building an open culture is a way of attracting and retaining talented and loyal employees.
6. It will soon become law (in the EU at least)
The EU’s new Whistleblower Protection Directive, which was first proposed in April 2018 and formally adopted by the European Council in April 2019, includes an obligation on organisations to keep whistleblowers informed about their disclosure. This includes providing feedback about the follow-up to the report within a “reasonable timeframe” of not more than three months.
In its initial analysis of the directive, Transparency International also recommended the addition of “an obligation to acknowledge receipt of a whistleblower’s report” – an amendment which was adopted in the final text under Article 9.
Member States will be obliged to write the Directive into national law by October 2021. Organisations affected by the legislation will be required to comply with the law immediately (if they have more than 250 employees) or by 2023 (if they have 50-249 employees).
No matter how trivial a report may seem, it shouldn’t be ignored. It’s important to take reports seriously, not only from a whistleblower experience perspective, but also a business perspective.
For example, we received a disclosure regarding a lack of lavatory tissue in the workplace bathrooms. Over time, more and more reports came in about the mystery of the missing supplies.
When the company finally looked into these reports, they found that there had been a large scale industrial theft of the company’s supplies, costing the company thousands of pounds.
Providing feedback helps keep people engaged in the process – something that could be vital during the evidence-gathering phase of an investigation.
Keep it simple
The feedback process should be easy, as this will make the process quicker and more efficient for both the discloser and the investigator.
The process should also allow for individuals to remain anonymous, but still allow for investigators at the other end to be able to provide feedback. For example, we use unique case numbers and passwords for employees and suppliers to check back on the progress of their report.
Complete the process
If you’re not providing feedback to your employees about reports they’ve raised, then it’s likely the effectiveness of your speak-up service is suffering as a result.
Of course, your whistleblowing service (or ‘front end’) is a small part of your whistleblowing policy and process. But by giving feedback you’re completing the process for the end user, thereby providing a personalised, quality service.