Whistleblowers under scrutiny

This week I have read about a number of whistleblowers. Two whistle-blew on employment behaviours and a different two whistle-blew on family members involved in criminal activity.

A friend of mine, Wendy Addison, who runs the business ‘Speak up, Speak out’, whistle-blew on her employer many years ago. Her decision to whistleblow resulted in her losing pretty much everything, including her job and life as she knew it following death threats that forced her to leave South Africa where she was living at the time. On the plus side, she now runs a business that supports employers and employees to communicate honestly and in a way that seeks to preserve dignity and the working relationship.

For every whistleblower we hear about though, there are probably thousands of employees who choose not to whistleblow – either formally or informally. It’s so often easier to just keep your head down than speak up. As a result, thousands of companies never get to hear about their employees who are committing acts of misconduct or otherwise who are seriously under performing.

Perhaps sometimes employees think that the employer is bound to be aware that one of the team is massively under performing or that another one of the team thinks it’s okay to regularly pad out their expense claim. I have even known employees question a colleague about their numerous midday absences, but never once raise their concerns with a member of management. “It wasn’t my place to interfere” is a common refrain. Too often though, employers are simply not aware of what is going on, or otherwise the people who really need to know are kept out of the loop.

It’s interesting that whistleblowing is considered by many organisations to be damaging and disruptive. But the reality is that employers need staff to bring to their attention the things that are not right or not working as they should, assuming of course they are interested in integrity and efficiency. Whistleblowing is therefore something that is both necessary and needed.

Ideally though, staff should flag up their concerns internally rather than phoning the local paper or contacting the police. So how can you ensure this happens? What can you do to ensure that employees in your organisation feel able to speak up without fear of retaliation?

Here are my 5 top tips:

  1. Change your mindset. You should be encouraging and thanking whistleblowers rather than treating them as the enemy. Whistleblowers are valuable, so cherish them and make sure the senior people in your organisation do too.
  2. Don’t just have a whistleblowing policy that resides in a dusty drawer. Make it real and living to keep it all fresh – and communicate it to everyone regularly.
  3. Why not view any 360° feedback process you have as a valuable extra to your whistleblowing policy. What issues are raised in 360 degree reviews that need to be formally acted on? And how can these be picked up?
  4. Link your whistleblowing policy to your continuous improvement plan or efficiency drive. Demonstrate the value of staff raising concerns and ideas by linking it to organisational strategy. This isn’t an added extra forced upon you, but instead an integral part of day to day management.
  5. Within your whistleblowing policy include details of how you will support whistleblowers both during and after the whistleblowing prices. Identify upfront how whistleblowing can affect things such as relationships, team dynamics, make people feel out of balance, put people on the defensive etc. Be clear how you will support the whistleblower with any difficult work situations that arise.

Any questions, ideas or thoughts please leave them in the comments box below or get in touch.

One final question for you: if someone feels a need to whistleblow in your organisation, do you think they expect to be rewarded/thanked? Or do you think they expect to be hounded out of the organisation?

 

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