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Company HR teams advised to promote whistleblowing policies more

HR managers and directors are being encouraged to review their whistleblowing processes in light of new research revealing low awareness and trust among employees.

A new survey highlights that a majority of HR professionals (57%), in both private and public sectors, believe their employees are actively encouraged to speak up about wrongdoing. An additional 36% state that employees are ‘aware’ they can report wrongdoing.

However, a significant proportion of employees are not aware of what to do if they witness or discover wrongdoing in the workplace.

The findings suggest that there is low investment in the training and promotion of whistleblowing processes and policies.

The whistleblowing survey, conducted by an independent third party, was commissioned by Sunderland-based Safecall – a specialist whistleblowing and compliance services provider.

The majority of respondents – some 83% – have a whistleblowing policy in place…17% do not. 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 this is the case.

On a positive note, HR managers are overwhelmingly aware of the EU Whistleblowing Directive. A minority – just over 20% – said they were not aware of the Directive and, in turn, the impact it may have 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 is high, which is great to see. However, when you look at how these systems work in practice and the level of trust in them, we see some unsettling trends.

“There are organisations that have whistleblowing reporting systems in place but are not actively encouraging reports. A minority of organisations – even if they do have whistleblowing reporting channels in place – see whistleblowing as a tick-box exercise. They don’t recognise the benefits to the revenue, morale and profit of their organisation.”

The findings show a large number of organisations – some 43.5% – are not bought into or, at worst, are 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 them and their organisation.”

Training and promotion of whistleblowing processes in the workplace appear to be areas where improvements can be made:

·       For the majority of respondents, whistleblowing training is not mandatory in their workplace.

·       More than 61% of organisations undertake no promotion or offer whistleblowing education to their workforce.

Lewis added: “If there is little or no training on what whistleblowing is about, then employees will most likely revert to their default inclination: Not speaking up. 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 42% of investigations are conducted by employees that have either learnt through experience, are self-taught, or have no experience at all.

The risks for organisations conducting investigations using employees with no formal whistleblowing investigations training are severe. The greatest element of risk lies in failing to follow legislative and tribunal process, and this is a recurring 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% of respondents felt employees ‘generally feel safe’ in reporting concerns of wrongdoing raises questions. It betrays an overall lack of confidence.”

She said it is a cause for worry that more than 74% of respondents could not be certain that whistleblowers were confident in reporting wrongdoing. It’s not enough for the whistleblower to ‘generally feel safe’ when considering reporting wrongdoing – their confidence in the process should be absolute.

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 fear that an employee will suffer reprisals if they report wrongdoing will actively reduce the possibility of uncovering problems in an organisation.

“This survey’s findings highlight a real opportunity for companies and organisations to review their whistleblowing processes, promote them better to their employees and ensure their whistleblower hotlines and reporting procedures are robust and independent.”

“Taking the steps to build a culture of trust in your organisation will not only improve the workplace for your employees, but also attract great people who want to work for you; enable you to better understand what is going on in your organisation and, perhaps most importantly, give you the tools to help you solve any issues.”

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Jo Lewis, MD of Safecall

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