Whistleblowing: People Will Only Speak Up If They Believe Action Will Be Taken

A new report, released by ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants), analyzed the wide range of ‘speak up arrangements’ used by firms across the world and identified what makes them effective. The findings show that, though difficult, demonstrating commitment to deal with issues and making the outcomes visible pays off.

“It is important that potential whistle-blowers have a clear view of not only the avenues available for speaking up, but also the full path ahead of them as they go through the whistleblowing journey. Simply put, people will only speak up if they believe action will be taken,” says Jo Iwasaki, ACCA’s head of corporate governance.

“Making responses visible makes a great difference. This will help to increase trust in the effectiveness of the speak-up arrangements and the leadership that support them. It separates trusted organizations from those where employees feel that speaking up is futile and risky.”

According to Jo Iwasaki, increased transparency can be an effective way of minimizing the reputational damage that can go hand in hand with potential malpractice.

“If your employees feel that wrongdoing will be dealt with promptly and fairly, they are far less likely to make the issue a public one. Many of the great reputational disasters of recent years have been made worse by attempts to sweep the issue under the carpet. A far better approach is to develop and implement robust and consistent response systems with clear and coordinated follow-up activities.”

Making the tough decision to bring in outside help should also be considered, says Iwasaki.

“It is worth considering the use of an external independent channel that sits alongside your internal conduits. It may feel counter-intuitive to set up channels that are external and possibly more formal when you are trying to build trust internally. However, if people use independent external channels and have a positive experience, the trust developed from the experience can transfer to other, including internal, channels that they may use in the future.”

According to lead researcher, Dr Wim Vandekerckhove, principal lecturer at the University of Greenwich, the effectiveness of a speak-up arrangement depends on the responsiveness of the organization.

“Sometimes it is very difficult for organizations to respond to certain concerns raised by employees, in particular when the concern was raised anonymously or when a complex investigation is required. That is why it is important for organizations to deliberately seek opportunities where responding can go beyond the standard and vague 'thank you, we're looking into this'. We have come across some good examples of this in our research, where responses to employee concerns have been communicated company-wide, or when the person raising the concern was part of the team developing a solution."

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