“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”
Nobody plans to become a whistleblower.
But sometimes someone finds out that something unethical, immoral, illegal or inappropriate is happening in their workplace or industry sector, and feels that they must report it.
This is a difficult and stressful activity particularly if they need to report something being done by a colleague or employer. Whistleblowers risk losing their job—and, depending on their work, they may find it difficult to find another job in the same sector.
Or if they don’t lose their job, their lives in and out of work can be made very difficult because of hostility felt towards them by employers and/or fellow staff.
And their families may be put under enormous stress—not helped if the case gets media attention.
Yet these are people with courage and integrity, who are doing the right thing. And companies who care for their corporate reputation try to encourage this behaviour.
Big companies try to make blowing the whistle as easy as they can, often signing up for an external service, so that employees (or others: suppliers, contractors, customers or business partners) can report something—in theory—without fear of retaliation.
This isn’t entirely altruistic: misconduct by employees damages a company’s reputation, and a good whistleblowing service —usually a phone line—can alert the company to a problem early, giving them a chance to deal with it before reputation damage occurs. And a reputation for a strong ethical culture never hurts…
So creating a quality system to enable whistleblowing is important, and a good system will support the employee as well as the company.
Make it easy
- It is important to ensure that the information about the phone line is readily available and well known across the company.
- Both the promotional material and the act of reporting should be available in multiple languages if a company is multi-national.
- And it must be clearly available—well-signposted and highly visible—on the corporate website. Those who wish to report a problem may be outsiders without access to internal promotional material or services.
Make it expected
People aren’t comfortable with whistleblowing.
- Asking people to ‘raise their voice’, to ‘speak up’, to ‘be heard’ or to ‘play the red card’ will create a culture where reporting issues becomes the norm. Look at those companies—such as BG Group—where the safety culture is strong, and endeavour to reproduce that kind of culture for ethical behaviour
- Promote the need to report problems at every level of the organisation, and locally as well as globally.
- Provide training in what to do in difficult situations, to try and avoid the problems in the first place – and consider the Institute of Business Ethics Say No Toolkit, which helps advise people on avoiding problems, or with reporting a problem they have come across.
- And be careful when identifying KPIs to measure success; proclaiming that your target is a low number of reports will create the wrong culture.
Make it safe
People will feel uneasy at reporting such incidents, so they need to feel safe.
- Choose an external reporting service that offers anonymity—for example, use of pseudonyms, and willingness to ensure no personal information is requested.
- Offering advice about anonymity online can help reassure: for example, explain that using a public PC (e.g. at a library or café) can improve anonymity.
- When a report is made, it should be taken seriously—with strong procedures to avoid retaliation. Make it clear what the process will be, and what steps will be made to maintain anonymity.
Reports of ethical problems are hard to hear, but just as customer feedback serves to improve products or services, so this kind of feedback can serve to improve the organisation—and support the corporate reputation.
This post is part of Blog Action Day; the theme this year is ‘raise your voice’.
Previous contributions to Blog Action Day have been:
2014: Recruitment and Equality: Diversity and Inclusion
2013: Communicating Human Rights
2012: One Plus One Can Be Greater Than Two
2011: Lessons From Food Security: Telling Us What Matters
2010: Mixing Oil and Water
2009: Climate change and the corporate site
2008: Celebrating the FTSE 100: action on the breadline
2007: Enticing the green investor