Public institutions and businesses today face greater scrutiny than ever before. Social media generates news by the minute while simultaneously functioning as platforms for individual voices to be heard. In a world where consumer loyalties shift drastically and the demand for transparency increases, businesses face the challenge of maintaining trust with their stakeholders.
Moreover, institutions must enable employees to voice concerns through formal and informal channels. Besides triggering a major world health crisis, COVID-19 created a string of new challenges in its wake. Evidence of whistleblowing reports by employees increased during the pandemic. Some cases referenced the pandemic directly, while others included abuse, fraud, or unsafe working conditions.
Now more than ever, employers need to implement transparent channels for fair hearings and responses to these reports. Not only should institutions create these spaces but step back and re-evaluate work culture and conduct that could encourage potential wrong-doing.
Acceptance and Openness
In effect, whistleblowing is part of the new normal and workplaces of the future. Leaders and organizations need to recognize and create the necessary provisions for it. Conversations around ethics and integrity can be challenging but are crucial to have nonetheless. The first signs of a red flag are when organizations do not have these dialogues regularly. Committing to an open culture is easy on paper - but an entirely different matter when it is time to walk the talk.
Treat Whistleblowers as Assets, not Liabilities
Whistleblowers often face the stigma of being labeled as ‘snitches.’ Flip the narrative instead. Build an active ‘speak up’ culture to encourage internal reporting while protecting confidentiality. Whistleblowers can be crucial sources of information on signs of organizational misconduct and the insidious abuse of power.
Test the Effectiveness of Workplace Mechanisms
Every organization has detailed reporting mechanisms and methods to build a work culture. However, very few businesses do a deep dive to test the effectiveness of these mechanisms. Consider analyzing existing reports and trends to arrive at the bigger picture. Look for patterns of serial complaints, silence, resignation patterns, or identify groups who might be most at-risk. What’s more, take a hard look at leadership and workplace hierarchies that could lead to abuse of power.
Transparent and Independent Reporting
Encourage people to speak up by creating independent review mechanisms to report unethical conduct by the leadership. Conducting independent investigations assures employees of action. Take concrete steps such as establishing unbiased special committees, independent legal counsel, and disseminating regular and transparent communication around the report.
Effective Responses to Whistleblower Complaints
Define and establish procedural requirements to address whistleblower complaints. While each case will differ from the next, the basic premise is an objective assessment, fairness, empathetic listening, and no retaliation. Document your findings and assess potential systemic issues every step of the way. Finally, have a contingency plan in place should matters go public or escalate further.
Creating the infrastructure and safe space to hear employee concerns is at the heart of healthy work culture and good leadership. Establishing internal capabilities for transparent policies and communication addresses risk and builds employee trust. These are fundamental starting points to anticipate and adapt to the needs of a changing world.