HR managers and directors are being encouraged to review their whistleblowing processes in light of new research revealing a low awareness and trust among employees.
A new survey highlights that a majority of HR professionals (57%) in private and public sector believe their employees are actively encouraged to speak up about wrongdoing. With an additional 36 percent who state that employees are ‘aware’ they can report wrongdoing.
However, a good proportion of employees are not aware of what to do if they witness or discover wrongdoing in the workplace.
The findings reveal there seems to be low investment in the training and promotion of whistleblowing processes and policies even among those organisations that have such things.
The whistleblowing survey, conducted by an independent third party, was commissioned by UK-based Safecall – an independent, specialist whistleblowing and compliance services provider.
The majority of respondents – some 83 percent – have a whistleblowing policy in place, although 17 percent do not.
Legal requirements surrounding whistleblowing
While there is no legal requirement for an organisation to have a whistleblowing policy, under the Corporate Governance Code, if a listed company does not have one in place, then senior management must be able to explain why they do not have one.
On a positive note, HR managers are overwhelmingly aware of the EU Whistleblowing Directive, although a minority – just over 20 percent – said they were not aware of the Directive and therefore the possible impact on their business.
This suggests that nearly two years of awareness activity by both public and private sectors has largely worked.
Joanna Lewis, MD at Safecall, said:
“Awareness and adoption of whistleblowing processes and policies seem fairly high, which is great to see. However, it’s when you start delving into the mechanics and trust of such processes that we see some worrying trends.
“There are organisations that have put whistleblowing reporting systems in place but are not bought into actively encouraging reports. A minority of organisations – even if they do have whistleblowing reporting channels in place – see whistleblowing as a tick-box exercise with no benefits to the revenue, morale or profit of the organisation.”
The findings show a large minority of organisations – some 43.5 percent – are not bought into, or at worst, completely unaware of the benefits of actively promoting whistleblowing.
Lewis said: “While progress is being made, more needs to be done to persuade some HR management teams that whistleblowing has multiple lasting benefits to both themselves and their organisation.”
Training and promotion of whistleblowing in the workplace appear to be big problem areas
For the majority of respondents, whistleblowing training is not mandatory in their workplace. More than 61 percent of organisations undertake no promotion and education within the workforce. Lewis added: “If there is little or no training on what whistleblowing is about, then employees will revert to their ingrained upbringing, which tends to result in not informing on colleagues. Wrongdoing will go unreported and potentially continue.”
For those companies that provide internal whistleblowing services only 58% of their investigators have been formally trained. This indicates a large minority of investigators (42%) are conducted by employees that have either learnt through experience, are self-taught or, in the worst case, have no experience at all.
The risks for organisations conducting investigations using employees with no formal whistleblowing investigations training are potentially huge. The greatest element of risk lies in failing to follow legislative and tribunal process, and this is a main reason for organisations losing tribunals.
When asked about the sentiment of employees, there were mixed responses from HR professionals. Lewis commented: “The fact that 42.6 percent of respondents felt employees ‘generally feel safe’ in reporting concerns of wrongdoing is actually pretty damning. It doesn’t sound overly confident.”
She said it should be a cause for worry that more than 74 percent of respondents could not be certain that whistleblowers were confident in reporting wrongdoing. The insight is that it’s not enough for the whistleblower to ‘generally feel safe’ when considering reporting wrongdoing.
Lewis said: “One of the hardest things any employee can do is to become a whistleblower – only a relatively small proportion will ever do so. Any hint that an employee will suffer reprisals if they report wrongdoing will actively reduce the possibility of uncovering problems in an organisation.
“These survey findings highlight a real opportunity for companies and organisations to review their whistleblowing processes, promote better to their employees and ensure there are robust independent whistleblower hotlines and reporting procedures.”
Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.