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Workplace misconduct is an ongoing issue – how can businesses promote a speak-out culture and support whistleblowers?

From: Open Access Government
By Jan Stappers LLM, EU Whistleblowing Specialist, NAVEX
September 5, 2022

Research by NAVEX found that in 2021 – of their 14,000 customers, with a total of 75 million employees – there were 14 million workplace misconduct incidents reported via the NAVEX hotline

Businesses face significant challenges trying to manage and reduce misconduct, the fallout of which can be serious reputational damage to brands.

Businesses must take allegations of workplace misconduct seriously. Not only does this protect the business, but it also helps the affected members of staff and works to guard against future incidents.

Building a speak-up culture

Workplace misconduct covers a broad range of problems, including toxic cultures, harassment and bullying. While misconduct is by no means a new phenomenon, the rise in the number of employees working from home has made dealing with it more complex. Since the shift to hybrid working, organisations have struggled to manage new issues, such as monitoring negative remarks in private video calls.

Business leaders should encourage ‘speak-up cultures’

Business leaders should encourage ‘speak-up cultures’ to help prevent workplace misconduct, properly manage incidents, and empower employees faced with bullying to speak out. To do so, they must build a safe and supportive workplace where employees feel comfortable enough to express concerns about someone’s behaviour at work.

Alongside internal pressures, business leaders also need to meet external demands from governments, society and law enforcers. For instance, laws like the Equality Act 2010 are constantly being updated to meet societies’ expectations of zero tolerance towards workplace misconduct. This means that it is complicated for businesses to navigate and to know where to start with building a speak-up culture.

Deploying a whistleblowing strategy

Workplace whistleblowing is the process through which employees can report issues to a dedicated person in the business which can include anything from illegal activities to wrongdoing in the workplace. Properly protecting whistleblowers also helps to promote a speak-up culture by giving employees the opportunity to voice their concerns in the workplace, without the worry of repercussions.

What is the process when it comes to building a trusted whistleblowing culture? There are a few key considerations:

  • From an organisational perspective, reporting is key. Employers need to build an effective reporting strategy to appropriately manage employee concerns and reassure staff that action will be taken.
  • Also, a culture built on transparency and trust is essential to successful reporting. Employers must ensure their employees are properly aware of the reporting process and feel encouraged to use it, should they feel it has become necessary. With an effective reporting strategy in place, more employees will gain the confidence to speak out as they will be encouraged by others’ success.
  • Another consideration is to invest in a whistleblowing hotline. It enables employees to easily report misconduct at work and helps employers track complaints in a secure way. This should be a data-driven process so that organisations can track patterns in reporting and the most regular types of misconduct complaints.
  • With a data-driven process in place, employers can use the data to identify issues in the organisation and implement training and awareness-building to minimise these incidents.
  • It comes back to the initial policy in place too. Businesses should also manage risk associated with workplace misconduct by committing to zero-tolerance policies and ensuring that violation of workplace conduct is disciplined.
  • Lastly, by communicating the success of others reporting misconduct in the workplace, employees will again feel confident enough to report issues. In turn, this will help build a supportive and encouraging speak-up culture.

Building a programme with robust technology solutions

There are many ways organisations can manage whistleblowing, and the appropriate policy to adopt will vary from business to business.

Industrial bodies often offer employees the option to submit complaints to external reporting or government bodies. And more recently, technological solutions have been introduced that help ensure businesses deploy effective whistleblowing policies and stay compliant with regulations, which is especially important for the EU Whistleblowing Directive.

In 2018, the protection of whistleblowers was deemed uneven and fragmented across Europe. This discouraged whistleblower reporting because of a concern over consequences and, or retaliation. As such, the European Commission presented initiatives to overcome the problem, one of them being the EU Whistleblowing Directive.

With the EU Whistleblowing Directive, from December 2021, all companies in the EU with more than 250 employees will need to comply with the Directive as it is transposed in each country (companies with 50-249 employees have until December 2023 to comply). The Directive aims to protect and encourage people to speak out about misconduct in the workplace, future-proofing businesses for dealing with workplace misconduct.

Having left the EU, the UK is not required to introduce the Directive; however, it is still relevant to employers for several reasons. An employer based outside the EU anywhere in the world which has operations in the EU could be caught by the Directive.

The realities of Brexit will require the alignment of UK whistleblowing laws. As a condition for agreeing to the Brexit trade deal and to ensure a level playing field, the UK and EU agreed to maintain their own labour and social levels of protection so equivalence could be required. Therefore, aligning your UK whistleblowing strategy to the EU’s approach is recommended, especially as it could actually be required.

Businesses that want to build a positive workplace culture alongside complying with regulations, will understand the importance of building more than just a hotline. It’s essential your programme expands to cover third-party risk, training where required and adaptable, quick solutions.

Future-proofing your business

Whichever whistleblowing strategy a business chooses to deploy, the most important thing is that they deploy one sooner rather than later. With the EU Whistleblowing Directive being transposed across Europe and other countries’ policies soon to follow, businesses need to be prepared to comply with legal whistleblowing regulations.

Building a supportive and safe speak-up culture with an effective whistleblowing strategy in place that aligns with regulations allows an organisation to mitigate the risk of workplace misconduct and safeguards the organisation’s reputation and values for the future of work.

Then, once the solution is built, it’s important to communicate the path the business is on both internally and externally to stakeholders, too. To mitigate the ongoing misconduct issue, it’s important for employees, stakeholders, prospects, governments and society to all be aware of your future-proof whistleblowing strategy, to prevent workplace misconduct and set the standard for other businesses to adopt similar programs and comply.