Date posted: 1/12/2016 2 min read

7 tips to encourage employees to safely speak up

What are some things that an organisation can do to encourage their employees to safely speak up about any wrongdoings?

In brief

  • Whistleblowing should be seen as an important tool to keep corporations in check and to alert the public of unethical, unsafe, unfair or illegal practices
  • It is in an organisation’s best interest to have clear and effective policies regarding whistleblowers in place as it encourages clear and early communication to minimise the stress and fallout for all involved
  • Most importantly, a corporate culture of openness, honesty, integrity and support should always be encouraged

By Bronwyn Xavier

The literal interpretation of the phrase “to blow the whistle” conjures up cartoonish images of a bumbling constable, blowing his oversized whistle to alert the public of the dangers of a pinstriped thief.

But the quaint phrase belies the reality of corporate whistleblowing, which is often furtive and whispered. The whistleblower can find themselves on uncertain ground, fighting ingrained prejudices we have about “dobbing in your mates”.

Despite this image, whistleblowing should be seen as an important tool to keep corporations in check and to alert the public of unethical, unsafe, unfair or illegal practices.

While Australia and New Zealand have dedicated agencies equipped to receive disclosures and have some laws in place to protect whistleblowers, anonymity is not always guaranteed by law, especially when the interest to the public doesn’t outweigh the breach of corporate confidentiality.

It is in an organisation’s best interest to have clear and effective policies regarding whistleblowers in place. This can encourage clear and early communication to minimise the stress and fallout for all involved.

Here are seven things businesses can do to encourage their employees to safely speak up.

1. Clarity

Have a clear definition of what constitutes unethical or illegal behaviour so that reportable conduct is readily identifiable. This can help reduce cases of frivolous or malicious complaints. It is important to understand that not all inappropriate behaviour is illegal and not all unacceptable conduct requires formal reporting.

2. Implement a framework to enable effective reporting

Where possible, policies should be developed through a collaborative process between management and employees.

3. Communicate

Ensure these policies are clearly communicated across all levels of the organisation. This could be done through training and awareness programmes, and should be supported by regular reminders.

4. Start the way you wish to continue

Ensure that the whistleblowing policy is outlined and emphasised during induction programmes for new employees and regularly evaluated to ensure its effectiveness.

5. Accessibility

Businesses should provide easily accessible options to report complaints and concerns. Most whistleblowing occurs outside of normal work hours, when the person feels most comfortable and safe.  Ideally these options should be accessible 24/7 and be separate to regular internal communications systems. The whistleblower’s complaints and concerns should be fully investigated, and where appropriate, the whistleblower kept informed of the progress and outcomes of their complaint.

6. External advice

Employees should be made aware of impartial third parties where they can take their complaint, and also of their right to legal advice.

7. Get the culture right

Most importantly, a corporate culture of openness, honesty, integrity and support should always be encouraged. This goes further than just standard anti-bullying policies, to a belief that all employees are valued and that their moral standards, opinions and questions are valid. During meetings, encourage question time, and don’t dismiss obvious or frivolous questions. Establish daily habits of clear and open communication between all levels of staff. A general vibe of trust and support in the workplace will benefit everyone.

Bronwyn Xavier is a freelance writer based in Australia.

This article was first published in the December 2016 issue of Acuity magazine.

Whistleblowing perspectives

  • Research into whistleblowing

    Chartered Accountants ANZ is participating in research into whistleblowing in Australia and New Zealand, The Whistle While You Work 2 research is being led by academics from  Griffith University in Queensland and involves the University of Victoria in Wellington NZ, two other Australian universities and 22 regulatory and professional organisations.

    Read CA ANZ Tax Leader Michael Croker’s view of the likely shape of new Australian whistleblower legislation on the CA ANZ website.