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“Whistleblower”. Rarely has a term provoked such lively and varied reactions in the political, economic and social spheres – and even in households! Traitors for some, heroes for others, these people, who were never predestined to bear this title, decided one day to put the common good before their own comfort after encountering misconduct or situations that need attention.

Names like Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Erin Brockovich, Maureen Kearney, or titles like Wikileaks, Panama Papers, Dieselgate, Deep Throat, Football Leaks, Pentagon Papers etc., are familiar to many. And the numerous film adaptations and pop culture references have greatly contributed to their diffusion to the masses. Some of these whistleblowers and the resulting investigations have shaped history, with several leading to the creation of regulations and protections for a future generation of whistleblowers.

To commemorate World Whistleblowers Day on June 23, NAVEX invites you to join a special webinar that will discuss the regulatory landscape, provide real-world examples of when whistleblowing programs encounter obstacles, and share best practices to establish a speak up culture.

In advance of this day meant to celebrate and highlight whistleblowers, let’s get into some key things to know about whistleblowing in the workplace.

What is a whistleblower?

A whistleblower, or reporter, is a person or a group of people who raises the alarm about dubious or dangerous practices with competent authorities, whether internal or external, or in more specific cases, towards the general public and the media. Whistleblowers generally have access to this information through their professional status (employees, lawyers, legal assistants, journalists) and decide to call attention actions that are or could be detrimental to the general interest, common law or the environment.

In short, a whistleblower is a person who speaks up to highlight the problem, usually with the intention of getting it fixed.

Why should we celebrate whistleblowers?

Making the choice to report, whether internally or externally, is not a decision to be taken lightly. Whistleblowers are courageous individuals, and depending on the circumstances, could be putting themselves at risk of retaliation (even though it is illegal to retaliate, it certainly still happens) and other unforeseen actions in the aftermath of a report.

Whistleblower reports can result in uncomfortable investigations for the reporter or their colleagues, too. This context is important to note, as it lays the foundation for the premise that whistleblowers are not typically making spurious claims, they are genuinely trying to call attention to unethical or illegal conduct.

To say people who choose to make a report are taking risks would be an understatement. In addition to the potential of capturing media spotlight and gaining notoriety, their identity can become a target of unwanted attention. In the most extreme and salacious cases, prosecution, fines, damages, extradition, prison sentences or worse are possible – and the legislative arsenal can be imposing and has a definite dissuasive power. Not only that, but the impact on the lives of reporters takes many forms: end of anonymity, isolation, asylum, intense scrutiny of their personal lives, and more, can be the result of some claims that make their way to the public sphere.

Because these reporters usually put the common good to the detriment of their personal situation, whistleblowers take risks that can transform their existence, and that of their loved ones, in defiance of the obstacles this may represent. In short, the practice of denouncing injustice, malfeasance and unethical conduct is not a one-day affair.

On a happier note, it’s important to note some of the benefits of whistleblowers and how their reports can positively impact the workplace. Here are a few reasons why whistleblowing matters and should be celebrated:

  • It’s an early warning system – Reporters help you catch problems early, before issues become disasters
  • Whistleblowing results in reduced risks – And acting on reports helps you avoid legal issues, fines and damage to your reputation
  • Enjoy a happier, healthier workplace – Feeling safe to speak up boosts the morale and trust of your people
  • Lays a solid foundation – Your whistleblowing program helps you meet legal requirements and shows your commitment to doing business ethically

How are whistleblowers perceived?

The proliferation of laws regulating whistleblowing and providing protections to whistleblowers worldwide illustrates a growing awareness and respect for the value whistleblowing reports can provide. While regulatory bodies around the world are passing whistleblower protections, that seems to indicate a positive reception to reporters and a respect for the information they bring to light. But is this really the case in the workplace?

In truth, it’s a mixed bag. While, as the world’s leading provider of whistleblower hotlines, we’d like to believe that whistleblowing reports are valued and appropriately handled, we’d be naïve to think this is the case everywhere. From cultural attitudes towards whistleblowers, to workplaces where reports are actively discouraged, the reality is that we collectively have work to do.

For the organizations “doing it right”, we applaud your efforts in encouraging reports and using that information to improve company culture. For those that are struggling with creating a speak up culture or getting buy in – join our upcoming webinar and maybe peruse some of our resources designed to equip you with the tools you need!

What does the benchmark data say?

In general, reporters blow the whistle more frequently about matters such as HR, diversity and workplace respect (a median 54.5% of reports in 2023), business integrity (19.7%), or environment, health and safety (6.1%) – excluding hard-to-categorize reports labelled as “other,” constituting a median 13.3% of reports.

As far as the outcomes go for reports, results include actions such as discipline (a median 32.9%) in 2023 according to the 2024 NAVEX Whistleblowing & Incident Management Benchmark Report), separation (17.5%) and training (8.7%).

Also highlighted in the annual NAVEX benchmark report, whistleblowing results are generally encouraging:

  • Reporters are speaking up. The volume of reports to internal channels continues to rise year on year: a median 1.57 reports per 100 employees in 2023 versus 1.47 in 2022 
  • We are also seeing particularly encouraging trends among smaller organizations: from 2.99 to 3.08 for companies with fewer than 2,499 employees; from 0.91 to 1.00 for organizations with 2,500-5,999 employees; and from 0.85 to 1.08 for those with 6,000 to 9,999 employee
  • The median rate of anonymous reporting in 2023 remained the same as 2022 (56%) but has been falling since 2099 where it sat at 65%
  • The substantiation rate is rising, at 45% in 2023 compared to 41% in 2022

Join us as we celebrate World Whistleblowers Day!

Whistleblowers and the practice of whistleblowing will surely continue to play a pivotal role in shaping laws and regulations, as well as exposing misconduct to the public, which ultimately work towards change for the better. While this subject will continue to be fraught and a bit complicated, we’re here for the discussion and hope you’ll join us!

Want to find out more about whistleblowing and best practices for an effective speak up culture?

Register for the webinar on June 21, 2024 at 8 AM PST/11 AM EST/ 4 PM GMT where whistleblowing experts will discuss the regulatory landscape, trends and a comparative analysis, and best practices for building a culture of speaking up.

Can’t make it? You can still register, and you’ll receive access to the webinar on-demand after it airs.

Save my spot!