How to get your employees to report misconduct

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A recent study by the Institute of Business Ethics (IBE) has confirmed what many HR professionals already know – unethical behaviour often goes unreported because employees fear reprisal and rarely trust whistleblower arrangements.

In the survey, just 55 per cent of employees who said they’d been aware of misconduct actually reported anything – a shocking 61 per cent of those then said they’d been left dissatisfied with the way their company handled the issue.

“Weak speak up arrangements leave companies vulnerable," warns Philippa Foster Back, director of IBE. "If boards do not know what is going on, they cannot protect their businesses against crisis.”
Debby Carreau, CEO and founder of Inspired HR, agrees.
“In the world today, with everyone hyper-connected on social media, even small issues not addressed internally can hurt an organization through negative publicity if an employee chooses to go external instead of using in-house channels,” she told HRM.

“It is more important than ever to handle ethical and legal compliance internally,” she added.

“Take a look at the most recent example of the Volkswagen emissions scandal,” she continued. “A scandal like that not only destroys careers but can bring down a company.”

According to Carreau, misguided loyalty is often at the route of why employees won’t report unethical behaviour.

“In the work environment peer loyalty is a strong,” she said. “Team members are frequently loyal to their friends first and the organization second.

“Layer on the fear of being ostracized, or worse, facing retaliation by their peers or the organization, and the likelihood of an employee speaking out is very low,” she added.

So how can HR ensure their organization will handle ethical complaints effectively and prove it to employees?

“Often the best approach is multi-faceted,” says Carreau.


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  • Larry Dawson on 2015-11-30 4:13:19 PM

    It seems the majority of whistleblowing isn't about turning in peers - it's about turning in managers, supervisors or executives who are guilty of misconduct. Whistleblowing on a peer employee rarely has the potential to terminate employment while reporting a higher-up for profligate expense account abuse, misuse of company assets, or harassing behaviour more often than not leads to almost immediate employment consequences for a line employee. A study in 2010 dealing with nurses in Ontario documented the existence of the "old boy" network which in almost every instance moved swiftly and decisively to discredit whistleblowers and discipline or terminate them for contrived performance issues, including manufacturing false discipline records and backdating the false documentation onto personnel files, retaliatory reassignments, cutting hours of work, denying benefits and other retribution. Unfortunately, in nearly all cases, HR was either part of the problem, or, where HR attempted to bring the matters to senior management's attention, their efforts were stifled or in some cases even HR personnel experienced retaliation. It's an established culture and it will take years to change it.

  • Shine on 2015-12-01 2:05:23 AM

    Really helpful thanks.

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