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5 key features of a whistleblowing service

The “must have” features for your service to give it the best possible chance of success.

Set against a backdrop of corporate scandals, fast-changing legislation and a societal shift towards more ethical business practices, organisations are increasingly looking to improve the way they protect their staff, customers and wider public.

An important part of this is enabling employees to share their workplace concerns safely and easily.

whistleblowing hotline or ‘Speak Up’ channel, through which employees can disclose those concerns, can play a central role. Implemented correctly, it will empower your employees to tell you about workplace issues that may present a risk to your business and its stakeholders - 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, organisations should think about the core objectives they want to build their service around. For instance, are you aiming to create a more open culture, tackle known issues, introduce the first element of a broader risk and compliance programme – 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 meaningful reports.

A 2018 survey of employee attitudes to ethics at work showed the most common reason Europeans 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 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 hotline benchmarking data, which shows reporters use a range of reporting channels.


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.


4. Transparency

Uncertainty about who will see a report, and how it will be investigated, can create doubt and distrust in the mind of the reporter. 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.

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


5. 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 reporter, 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 reporters 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 public and private organisations with 50 employees or more must offer secure reporting channels that ensure confidentiality.

Put the reporter in control

Accessibility and openness should be core features of any reporting system. In our experience, the most effective programmes 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 empower your employees, and deliver meaningful information that helps you protect your people, reputation and bottom line.