Workplace misconduct represents a significant cost to businesses. Current best practice suggests the best way to detect and prevent misconduct is to establish a strong speak-up culture supported by an effective whistleblowing solution. Find out more in this blog from Liz Hornby, Eukleia’s Principal Consultant, and Paula Davis, Director, Waypoint GRC.
Interestingly, the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners’ 2018 Report to the Nations: Global Study on Occupational Fraud and Abuse found that 50% of corruption cases were detected by a tip.
Unfortunately, the 2018 ECI Global Business Ethics Survey found that rates or retaliation against whistleblowers are rising significantly faster than rates of reporting – a worrying trend that suggests that many cultural initiatives and whistleblowing systems are not working as intended.
In the rest of this blog we’re going to look at:
- How to develop a strong speak-up culture
- How to put in place effective systems, tools and technologies that encourage and streamline the whistleblowing process
Developing a strong speak-up culture
There are lots of reasons why employees don’t report concerns. Many are cultural (at an organisational, industry or country jurisdiction level). Others relate to a perceived lack of confidentiality and/or a fear of retaliation.
The first step in developing a strong speak-up culture is achieving employee engagement. This means instilling a culture of individual responsibility where those who challenge decisions and ask questions are encouraged and rewarded. In this type of culture, speaking up becomes the norm and employees are comfortable speaking up to their line manager.
The next step, inextricably linked to the first, is to ensure that employees who do speak up are met by managers who ‘listen up’. It is vital that managers respond positively to challenge and questions. Managers play a vital role in embedding and sustaining a speak-up culture.
Finally, ‘listen up’ must be followed by ‘follow up’, wherever possible (within the limitations of law and regulation). Those who speak up should be informed of the steps that the firm has taken in response to their question or report. A belief that nothing will be done is one of the main reasons quoted by employees for failing to speak up.
Culture change around whistleblowing
All three of these steps can be addressed by effective cultural change and speak-up training programmes that cover management response, as well as employee action.
In a strong speak-up culture, whistleblowing (defined here as an employee using a prescribed route to report a concern other than speaking up to their line manager) becomes the exception. Here whistleblowing is likely to be used where:
- The speak-up culture has broken down
- An employee’s manager is personally involved in the wrongdoing being reported
- The matter is of a particularly serious or sensitive nature
This is where tools, systems and technologies play an important role.
Effective whistleblowing systems, tools and technologies
An effective whistleblowing solution needs to make it genuinely easy for employees to report concerns. That means taking advantage of the technology and tools available to make it simple for staff to say what they want quickly, easily and in their own language.
Many organisations’ reporting systems are still focused primarily on telephone-based hotlines, relying on someone making a conventional phone call to a call centre. Someone dials a toll-free number and speaks to a call centre operative who can only speak to them in one of a limited number of languages. If the preferred language of the caller is not available immediately, then there is usually a process for engaging an interpreter in order to have a three-way conversation about the caller’s concerns.
This doesn’t feel like a straightforward process likely to encourage an apprehensive whistleblower to persevere and unsurprisingly, there has been a noticeable and sustained decline in phone-based reporting over the past few years. If alternative methods were easily available, employees may be more likely to use them.
Interestingly, research shows that penetration rates for mobile subscriptions in developing nations hit 98.7% at the end of 2017. On the surface, this might be seen as a positive for hotline calling, but many of the supposedly ‘toll-free’ numbers are not, in fact, toll-free when called from a mobile.
The global uptake of mobile subscriptions has, however, led to a rapid growth in the use of mobile apps in developing nations – which is a great opportunity for a more innovative approach to reporting concerns. Coupled with advances in voice recording and machine translation the prevalence of mobile technology offers a genuine opportunity to rethink whistleblowing hotlines.