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Your employees are your best source of risk intelligence. Here’s how you can enable and encourage employees to speak up about potentially damaging behaviour in the workplace.

Whistleblowing channels are now commonplace in corporate environments.

Anti-bribery and anti-corruption laws and regulations, coupled with social movements against workplace discrimination and harassment, have been driving forces behind change.

Encouraging people to speak up makes good business sense. Extensive research has demonstrated a clear relationship between internal reporting system usage (whistleblower hotlines) and positive business performance.

The case for implementing a whistleblowing channel is therefore clear. But what further steps can you take to encourage people to speak up when they encounter unethical conduct?

 

4 ways to encourage a speak up culture in your organisation

It is impossible to change your culture overnight. But there are a number of steps you can take that will help encourage your people to speak up and report their workplace concerns. 

1. Develop a robust, inclusive whistleblowing programme

Firstly, if you haven’t already done so, you should implement a whistleblowing policy and programme as soon as possible.

Your policy will encourage people to come forward and voice their concerns. It should signpost how people can go about raising their concerns, explain what will happen next, and provide information about what measures are in place to protect disclosers (whistleblowers) from any reprisals.

Developing your programme to include confidential reporting channels and clear, robust investigation processes will show your employees that when they’re ready to speak up, your organisation is ready to listen.

Communication of your policy and programme is critical, and should involve full “buy in” from your senior and middle management teams. Setting the right tone will make it easier to cultivate a positive speak up culture. 

2. Train your people

The next step is to train all of your people (from entry level to CEO). Your training can take many forms, but as a bare minimum it should include:

  • A summary of the ethical standards expected of employees
  • How (and why) you can raise a report about breaches of these standards
  • How reports will be handled and processed
  • How those who speak up will be protected

For organisations based in EU Member States, training employees on the reporting options available to them will be a legal requirement under the EU Whistleblower Protection Directive. You should also take steps to formally train people who are likely to receive or handle whistleblowing reports.

Speaking up – especially in relation to a colleague - can be daunting. By training your people about how whistleblowers will be protected from retaliation will help put those fears at rest, which could lead to more reports and prevent people taking their concerns outside the organisation.

Using case studies in training can be powerful too. By showing what happens when a report is raised and what happened as a direct result of it, it is possible to dispel much of the fear and uncertainty that surrounds speaking up. 

3. Respond to every report

It’s important to acknowledge and respond to every report – regardless of its content. This will prove to your people that their contribution is valued and recognised.

Establishing a two-way line of communication doesn’t just create a positive user experience - it will also make it easier to follow up with the discloser with requests for further information. And, if an employee has a positive experience, they are likely to tell their colleagues (although it’s important to remember this can work both ways).

Under the new EU Whistleblower Protection Directive it will be a requirement to respond to every whistleblowing report and keep people informed about their disclosure. 

4. Prevent retaliation

If you want receive high-quality risk intelligence from your employees, you will need to put measures in place that protect the disclosers from retaliation. This is vital for the success of your speak up programme.

If an employee knows a fellow colleague has been treated less favourably after raising a concern, it is likely to prevent other colleagues from coming forward.

Retaliation against those who speak up is illegal in many countries (including the UK), and is to be outlawed across the EU under the new Whistleblower Protection Directive. The Directive also introduces safeguards to prevent whistleblowers (as well as those assisting whistleblowers such as colleagues, relatives etc) from facing demotions, suspensions, bullying or any other form of reprisals.

Still unsure how to prevent whistleblower retaliation? Download our whitepaper

 

The risks of discouraging whistleblowing

Discouraging employees from speaking up won’t cause organisational issues to simply “go away”. Instead, your people are likely to become frustrated, stressed and disengaged. They may even resort to finding another channel through which they can share their concerns.

This could mean they take what they know externally to a regulator, share it on a social media platform or give it to a media outlet. 

Why all organisations should embrace reporting

Recent events show that people are ready to call out unacceptable or unethical behaviour in a public setting when their employers do not listen to their concerns. With employee expectations rising, it’s no longer enough for organisations to simply deploy a ‘tick-box’ approach to internal reporting.

The most successful organisations put reporting channels at the heart of their risk and compliance programme. Typically they will offer multiple reporting channels, employee training, robust investigation processes and strict anti-retaliation measures.

That’s because these organisations recognise that more reports are a good thing. They view their reporting channels as an early warning system against cultural issues and unlawful or unethical conduct that may result in prosecution, fines, and reputational damage.

With more countries around the world moving to strengthen their whistleblower protection laws, now is the right time for organisations to embrace and encourage a healthy workplace whistleblowing culture.

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