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Does your organisational culture create a safe space for whistleblowers?

Feb 22, 2019

The fallout from recent high-profile media cases has raised doubts amongst many commentators about the ability of organisations to create a safe space for whistleblowers within the workplace. Justin Moran and Michael Fitzgerald set out the top five tips to improving corporate culture and creating a safe space for whistleblowers.

Change the emphasis towards ‘speak up’ rather than ‘whistleblowing’

While traditionally known as whistleblowing, the term ‘speak up’ is now more widely used to help promote the reporting of concerns across the organisation in a more positive manner. Organisations should review the language used within policies and procedures to ensure that the communication and messaging is in keeping with best practices.

Foster a culture that embraces the value of employees who raise concerns

One solution to creating a workplace culture that embraces the value of employees (reporters) who raise concerns is by recognising the inaccuracy of the negative but pervasive perceptions about reporters. The false perceptions about a reporter’s motivation often prompts an immediate reaction from management who views the employee raising the concern as the actual problem, rather than addressing the problem identified by the employee. Nothing can hurt an organisation more than an environment where employees are discouraged from speaking up because of management inaction or likely retaliation. Boards and senior management need to ensure that the tone set by way of policy and behaviours supports a speak up environment.

Provide multiple channels for raising concerns

A critical success factor of any speak up framework is the availability of multiple, safe avenues for employees to raise concerns. However, those avenues must be trustworthy, protective of the employee and understood by everyone in the organisation. It is important that employees can raise concerns to higher internal levels without restriction. Employers need to assess the option of anonymous, third-party reporting that is truly protective of an employee’s identity. Best practice corporate governance arrangements require Boards to routinely review policies and procedures, and the reports arising from its operation.

Respond to employee concerns in a timely manner

An organisation’s speak up policy should outline a commitment to responding to concerns raised by employees with reliable processes and procedures. Global surveys have shown employees are more reluctant to speak up for fear of reprisal and a belief that their concerns will fall on deaf ears. Communication and awareness of the process should be reviewed on a regular basis and incorporated into brand values and organisational plans, including risk and compliance frameworks.

Make arrangements for independent investigation

The value of robust and independent investigation processes cannot be underestimated. Best practice corporate governance emphasises the requirements of Boards to ensure that arrangements are in place for the proportionate and independent investigation of speak up concerns. Best practice directs that investigative processes are independent from management and human resources to ensure confidentiality and objectivity. Organisations should ensure that investigative processes are conducted on a confidential basis and in a timely manner by qualified professionals to help manage costs and reputational risks.

Justin Moran is a Director, Forensic Investigations, Internal Audit and Risk in Mazars and Michael Fitzgerald is a Senior Manager, Forensic Investigations, Internal Audit and Risk in Mazars.

Mazars hosts The Future of Business podcast series with Vincent Wall. You can listen to episode 9 on White-collar crime and whistleblowing here