Employees are a company’s number one source for tips to detect fraud and other misconduct in the workplace. One of the many challenges faced by managers and HR professionals is how to encourage employees to use internal reporting tools as they may be hesitant to report misconduct for fear of retaliation. A well communicated anti-retaliation policy can help.
Committing to the Cause
The tone at the top establishes the culture of the company. Employers need to communicate their commitment to creating a productive and safe workplace for everyone. Talk to employees about how internal reporting tools help the company achieve this goal. Let employees know that when they report misconduct, the information helps to eliminate and correct workplace risks.
The article “Encouraging Internal Reporting” by the SCCE, reports that:
“In an organization where information flows freely among various levels, it’s more likely problems will come to the attention of those who will be able to deal with them relatively early. Research shows that whistleblowing is more likely to occur in an open organization, but they are more likely to view it merely as truth telling and as an attempt to help the organization.”
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Some additional steps that can help improve corporate culture and make the use of internal reporting systems less daunting for employees are:
- Train employees to use internal reporting systems. Provide them with access to information and let them know what to expect once a complaint has been made. Distribute information to employees, explaining the complaint and investigation processes.
- Establish, communicate and provide training on company anti-retaliation policies. If employees are expected to use internal reporting systems, they will need to feel safe and protected.
- Provide employees with regular access to management. Inform employees of the reporting lines within the company and designate times when management is available to speak with them and answer questions. An open door policy puts employees at ease, making the work environment more inviting for discussion- especially when it involves sensitive topics. Offer training sessions regarding how to communicate openly within the organization.
Awareness is Key
An article on Tradingmarkets.com, says that awareness was one of the main contributors to the increase in calls made to the ethics (“whistleblower”) hotline at BAE Systems:
“The number of BAE Systems workers calling the controversial group’s confidential “whistleblower” helpline to report incidents rocketed 72% in 2009 to 870. BAE also said the number of staff dismissed due to “unethical behaviour” jumped 63% to 485. The defense giant revealed the figures in its latest annual and corporate responsibility reports. The report said: “Employees made 870 enquiries to our Ethics Helpline in 2009 to request information and advice or raise concerns confidentially about business conduct. Procedures are in place to ensure ethical concerns are investigated and the findings are reported to the Ethics Review Committee.” The spokesman said the jump in those using the helpline was due to increased awareness of the hotline within the group after the roll-out of its global code of conduct in 2008. Still, only about 50% of staff surveyed stated that they feel it’s safe to speak up and challenge an issue.”
Employees must be aware that an internal reporting system exists, but they should also know how to use it. In the example of BAE, their systems provide advice on ethical issues. Give employees access to a knowledge base of past issues and resolutions. Post signs within the workplace reminding employees of their options when it comes to reporting misconduct. Training and communication brings awareness to workplace misconduct and the steps taken to reduce these issues in the workplace.
Anonymity and Confidentiality
Provide employees with various options for reporting. Outline the differences between confidentiality and anonymity to avoid confusion between the two. In cases where anonymous reporting is possible, employees are usually given an incident report number to track the investigation. In other cases, confidentiality is the only option. This means that the individual’s identity is exposed, but only to a select group of people directly involved in the investigation.
Some whistleblowers feel comfortable with full disclosure- in this case, ensure the employee is kept free from retaliation, and check in with them regularly to keep an eye on the situation. Another consideration is to provide employees with options for case entry, such as a web-based reporting system or a hotline-only system. Many companies tend to use a reporting system that integrates web-based and telephone hotlines for better case management. Keep in mind employees have different comfort levels and it could take some time before they are comfortable trusting the measures in place to reduce the risks of retaliation.
Recognize and Reward
In many cases, we only hear about employees who were either fired or experienced retaliation that caused them to quit their jobs after blowing the whistle. In cases where there is significant evidence supporting an employee’s complaint and a subject admits that they are guilty as charged, chances are, the employee blowing the whistle was acting to protect the company and its reputation, rather than out of malicious intent. The SCCE article also says:
“One way to reinforce this message is to give awards for internal problem reporting, (e.g., by incorporating them into an existing award program for suggestions that save or make money for the organization). The amount of the award could be based on saving money (e.g., the discovery of embezzlement), but there are many other ways to positively reinforce the message that reporting is valued. The program should be well publicized, as should the presentation of the awards.”