Effects of Whistleblowing on Employees: The Importance of Feedback
Introducing an internal reporting channel is only the beginning. The way you deal with reports once they have been raised is critical to its overall success.
Providing feedback to people who raise a concern is a simple but effective way to demonstrate you operate a ‘speak-up’ culture that reflects important messages about treating every report appropriately.
1. It provides reassurance that it’s ok to speak up
Acknowledging a whistleblowing report provides confirmation that it has been received and read – and is valued. This is, in many cases, the simplest and most effective action you can take to reassure those who have taken the often-difficult step to raise a concern.
It also provides a signal to others who may have workplace concerns, through word of mouth, that whistleblowing is encouraged and taken seriously within the company.
Potential whistleblowers are often torn between wanting to do the right thing, whilst not wanting to experience retaliation, betray their colleagues or employer, or even lose their job.
Feedback is an important way of showing your stakeholders that you value people who speak up about wrongdoing and take their concerns seriously.
2. It can prevent whistleblowers from going public
Acknowledging issues internally before someone decides to take their concerns to an external regulatory body, post on their social media network, or even speak to the press, should be a priority for every organisation that values its reputation.
Recent history is littered with examples of employees who have tried to alert their superiors about unethical or illegal activities but who, when their concerns were ignored, chose to ‘go public’.
Organisations need to acknowledge the whistleblowing report and provide feedback, regardless of whether the report is substantiated.
The acknowledgement and feedback the whistleblower receives is likely to create a connection and build trust between the employee and their speak-up service.
3. It can help build employee loyalty
Making employees and suppliers feel valued will not only help build an open culture within your company, but it may also increase their loyalty towards it.
Herzberg’s theory of motivation has shown that employees like to feel valued – and often find it more motivating than financial reward. He also found that when employees receive recognition or a sense of being valued, they can be an even greater asset to their organisation.
This reinforces the idea that while a whistleblower doesn’t always have to be vindicated, providing feedback to let them know that their report is being investigated shows they are valued.
Keeping the employee updated throughout the process will give your whistleblowing system a positive reputation.
4. It can create a “word of mouth” effect
According to Nielsen, 83% of people trust recommendations from people they know.
If people hear about a colleague’s positive experience, it may encourage others to come forward to reveal unethical behaviour within the workplace. A poor experience will likely have the opposite effect and deter people from coming forward with crucial information.
By constructing a positive journey from beginning to end for the whistleblower, you’ll increase the chances that users will act as advocates for your whistleblowing system.
5. It encourages an open culture that retains talent
Delivering feedback will show you’re listening and that you do genuinely want to protect your employees and suppliers. In turn, this will give employees confidence in the process, and in challenging inappropriate behaviour more openly.
A positive, ethical culture is a great way to differentiate yourself from your competitors. It takes commitment and energy, but building an open culture is a way of attracting and retaining talented and loyal employees.
6. It is becoming a legal requirement for many organisations
The EU’s new Whistleblower Protection Directive, which came into effect in 2021, includes an obligation for organisations to keep whistleblowers informed about their disclosure. This includes providing feedback about the follow-up to the report within a “reasonable timeframe” of not more than three months.
In its initial analysis of the directive, Transparency International also recommended the addition of “an obligation to acknowledge receipt of a whistleblower’s report” – an amendment which was adopted in the final text under Article 9.
Member States were obliged to write the Directive into national law by the 17th December 2021. Organisations affected by the legislation in each Member State will be required to comply with the law immediately (if they have more than 250 employees) or by 2023 (if they have 50-249 employees).
No matter how trivial a report may seem, it shouldn’t be ignored. It’s important to take reports seriously, not only from a whistleblower experience perspective, but also a risk management perspective.
Even seemingly ‘low-level’ reports may represent a whistleblower ‘testing the water’ before reporting a much more significant issue, or may even prove to be an important piece in an imminent or existing investigation.
Providing feedback helps keep people engaged in the process – something that could be vital during the evidence-gathering phase of an investigation.
Keep it simple and secure
The feedback process should be easy, as this will make the process quicker and more efficient for both the discloser and the investigator.
The process should allow for individuals to remain anonymous, but still allow investigators at the other end to be able to provide feedback.
WhistleB’s whistleblowing system, for example, provides a secure mechanism through which identified or anonymous reporters can communicate with their organisation about their report throughout the process.
Build trust and consistency
If you’re not providing feedback to your employees about reports they’ve raised, then it’s likely the effectiveness of your whistleblowing system is suffering.
Ensure you have the appropriate tools, personnel and funding allocated to your programme so that every report you receive results in a meaningful response.
A robust whistleblowing and incident management system will help automate initial acknowledgement, streamline the feedback and dialogue process, and build trust in your workplace whistleblowing process.