Blog | Why Making Employee Whistleblowing Easier Is Essential To Engagement
Culturally it can be hard for employees to complain, particularly when it is about one of their peers or someone in authority. So what approach should organisations take to create a culture where sensitive issues can be raised easily?
Senior management needs to know what is happening on the ground within their organisation – after all, the buck stops with them if things go wrong. However, they often have difficulty finding out information as staff are reluctant to discuss certain topics. This usually relates to sensitive issues such as other employees’ lack of compliance with company policy or industry regulations - or the poor performance of line managers for example. And culturally it can be hard for employees to complain, particularly when it is about one of their peers or someone in authority.
In extreme cases we are talking about senior management trying to encourage employees to ‘blow the whistle’ on illegal activities that might relate to fraud, health and safety issues or other actions that could damage company reputation. Staff may know what is going on in the company, but may not want to speak out for fear of reprisals by those involved.
When staff feel uncomfortable with things that might be happening within an organisation and feel unable to report it to senior management, it can have a negative impact on morale and productivity and ultimately lead to staff churn. And that’s in addition to potentially substantial damage to a company’s brand reputation.
Providing support to staff who are brave enough to speak out is essential. The NHS has recently recognised the importance of supporting the whistle blowing process in its Freedom to Speak up Review. This cites examples of NHS staff who were put off from speaking up about bad practice or issues relating to patient safety because they "fear victimisation" or because they feel they will not be listened to. The review quotes stories of employees facing isolation, bullying and counter-allegations after they had reported unacceptable behaviour by other staff. In some extreme cases when they had been brave enough to speak up ‘their lives had been ruined’, to quote the report.
It can be difficult to give employees a clear, supportive way of raising concerns with senior management in an independent, straightforward manner. So what practical things can be done to help? There are examples of online survey and feedback collection technology being used to providing a way of ensuring anonymity of whistle-blowers without compromising the detail and depth of reported information.
One example is an ongoing programme within a government department of a Scandinavian country - although it could equally apply to any large institution, public or private. This department is using a modified version of the Questback survey tool which allows employees to schedule an online chat conversation with a moderator to report their concerns. They can select full anonymity for their chat session, which also masks their IP address so comments cannot be traced back to their computer. There is also a secure anonymous facility for the employee to upload documents to support the issue they are reporting.
All of this helps create a culture where sensitive issues can be raised easily, and within a clear and safe process. This encourages more openness, greater engagement and happier staff, helping the organisation retain talent, meet customer demands and adhere to regulatory targets. Give whistle-blowers the support they need and recognise the good they can do for your organisation.
This blog was first posted on HR Zone on 24th February, 2015