Introduction | the continued rise of whistleblowing processes in business
Whistleblowing is a subject that is increasingly on the minds of senior executives.
There is a greater recognition that whistleblowing policies and processes – either internal, outsourced or hybrid – need to be put in place if business is to filter out malpractice and wrongdoing in the office and workplace.
Why is this new consciousness occurring?
You only have to take a look back at the past decade to see a rise in news connectivity and witness the increased public awareness and visibility of fraud, sexism, racism, bullying in the workplace, ageism, and health and safety violations.
Only last month (March 2022) the UK saw the Ockenden Report into the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust (SaTH) Baby Ward state that 'there was a lack of effective investigation and governance at the trust and a culture of not listening'1.
We might naturally wonder if a robust, impartial, publicised, and anonymous whistleblowing hotline system might have made an enormous difference to the result.
Let us be clear. Wrongdoing in the office and workplace has not begun recently. It has always been there.
It is simply a case that public awareness of wrongdoing has grown enormously, and because senior executives are part of the public – there is no demarcation line between you as a person and you as an executive – many in the business community are now confronting issues because they understand they need to come to grips with them before they potentially cause real damage to their business' finance or reputation.
But let us turn to whistleblowing reporting processes themselves... and more specifically, what are the benefits of having an outsourced whistleblowing process compared to an internal whistleblowing system?
1) Complying with relevant whistleblowing regulation(s)
In several industries there is simply no choice in the matter.
Throughout most of the finance industry, food sector, and any business with more than 250 employees anywhere in the EU, having a whistleblowing process in place is a binding part of compliance with corporate governance, best practice, or the Law.
In one form or another this occurs in nearly every country across the world. In many cases – such as with the EU Whistleblowing Directive, and the forthcoming German Supply Chain Due Diligence Act – compliance with the law is trans-national and required based on the number of employees within an organisation as well as within the specific sector.
To be completely clear. If your business or organisation is subject to whistleblowing regulations and requires you have a whistleblowing process in place, it is against the Law for you not to have it.
2) A whistleblowing process helps safeguard your finances and reputation
Whether your business has an internal, outsourced or hybrid whistleblowing hotline or process, it helps General Counsels, HR Managers and Directors, Compliance & Risk Managers and Quality Assurance staff safeguard your company reputation.
Without a reliable process scandal and wrongdoing can often appear out of the blue, like a sudden summer storm, leaving Managing Directors and CEO's wondering 'why wasn't this picked up on before?' and 'how on earth are we meant to handle this?'
Many relatively minor incidents can be handled in-house, even if there is only a basic process. That is not to say the incidents themselves will not cause a huge amount of disruption, additional work, and potential heartache, but they can be solved.
At their worst however, major wrongdoing incidents can cripple and even destroy a business reputation and culture.
The immediate impact in all cases though, whether major or minor, is that if you have no reliable whistleblowing system, those involved are thrown directly into a messy situation they had no awareness of just minutes prior to disclosure.
And that is a tough situation to be in.
If you have a robust whistleblowing system in place, crises still happen, but senior executives are much more likely to have advance warning of them, and that makes all the difference.
It makes all the difference because it gives decision makers time to think, to plan and to mitigate the worst of any financial or reputational damage.
Senior executives might wish to ask themselves if they are confident their existing whistleblowing system would give them sufficient early warning of impending issues.
The beauty of implementing an external whistleblowing system and report management software is that it can be installed quickly, efficiently, and be up-and-running often within twenty-four hours.
That means you can be helping safeguard your corporate culture almost immediately.
3) Anonymous whistleblowing hotlines promote transparency within your organisation
In all cases, having an anonymous whistleblowing hotline and process shows employees that their employer wants – and is genuine about – transparency across all levels of their company or organisation.
This focus on transparency is important from the employer's point of view too because it flags to the outside world – who are always watching and always ready to highlight trouble through social media – that the company or organisation is 'doing the right thing'.
By having an outsourced or external anonymous whistleblowing hotline and process in place, it shows you are serious about the independence of the report collection and the safety of the whistleblower from repercussion.
4) Whistleblowing demonstrates good governance to your stakeholders
In addition to promoting transparency to employees and the outside world, an anonymous whistleblowing process demonstrates good governance to that most important of groups... the business' stakeholders.
Good governance is essential because stakeholders equate it with words and phrases like 'sound business practices', 'solid' and 'reliable'; and that is what stakeholders – both internal and external – want from a business or organisation.
Good governance means predictability, and predictability means less liability, and fewer opportunities for unexpected and often nasty shocks that destabilise pension funds, budgets, and growth plans.
No wonder then, that having a whistleblowing system in place promotes confidence. It signals that the management of the business or organisation know what they are doing and are actively trying to protect the stakeholders.
And if having a whistleblowing system promotes confidence, then working with an external whistleblowing solution provider takes that confidence to another level.
Outsourcing whistleblower call handling allows senior executives to clearly demonstrate to stakeholders that there can be no internal interference in the reporting process whatsoever.
5) No internal overheads needed
But why would you look at implementing an external whistleblowing process in the first place?
Why not simply rely on your HR person, or HR department, or General Counsel, or Quality Assurance manager to handle any whistleblowing reports?
The easy answer is there is an overwhelming case against implementing internally.
By choosing to outsource your whistleblowing system you avoid a huge amount of trial-and-error, wasted research, implementation time, internal overheads in terms of both budget and people, and ultimately give yourself fewer headaches to deal with on a day-to-day basis.
You see, many HR, GC, QA, and H&S roles cover a huge range of responsibilities, so unless the designated owner has specialised specifically in whistleblowing processes and reporting, or has handled whistleblowing issues before, it is highly unlikely they will know exactly what to implement.
Simply finding out what to implement will cause delays.
To begin with, there is an element of research involved to simply understand what is required from legislation and how it will impact your business or organisation headcount, activities, and communications.
And even if this is set aside as a one-off time and cost, there is still the need to implement the whistleblowing solution itself.
Implementing will involve designating phonelines and routing, making website alterations, allocating additional duties, and training for designated report handlers, possible recruitment for larger companies and organisations.
And that is without an ongoing commitment to management of the whistleblowing management system that has been put in place.
By choosing to outsource the whistleblowing system all these issues are avoided.
A good external whistleblowing service provider will have you up-and-running very quickly – often within 24-hours – and the whistleblowing software, website, hotline and process they will provide you with will be complete.
You will have no need to research, understand, get involved with technology, make website alterations, or ask for more headcount.
There will be a single point of contact for you to work with – an experienced account manager – and they will hand-hold you through the whole implementation. They will get everything up-and-running for you. They will confirm who the primary contacts will be within your organisation. They will organise any training that might be needed, and they will even help provide internal communications material and any translations necessary to promote the whistleblowing service to your employees.
Any reports that come in from staff will be handled by call-handlers who have had more than 25 years of experience within the police force. This experience gives them the skills to deal with people from differing backgrounds, often in stressful situations. They are both empathetic and inquisitive in nature, putting the reporter at ease and allowing for the most conclusive whistleblowing report to be taken.
No advice is ever given to the whistleblower. They are simply there to collect as much relevant information as possible.
All reports are dealt with quickly and efficiently and provided online to the designated contacts within your organisation.
But here is the really important bit.
The external whistleblowing solution provider is an expert in what they do with many years of experience. They know what is needed and have a tried and tested process.
By way of an example of this last point, Safecall has been handling whistleblowing reporting on behalf of both private business, charities, and public organisations for over 20 years. They already work in more 150 countries and 68+ languages, covering 2000+ offices and workplaces, and 2.5m employees. They have a client retention rate of 97.5%.
Summary | The five reasons to have a robust outsourced whistleblowing process
We have taken a look at the five primary reasons why outsourcing a whistleblowing hotline is preferable to trying – and often failing – to implement one in-house.
Briefly, those reasons are:
- You might need to implement a whistleblowing process because of legislation – either industry specific, national, or trans-national.
The fastest, most effective method of being legally compliant is to outsource the whistleblowing call handling and report collation to experts who are doing it day-in-day-out.
- If you have no whistleblowing system in place, or if your whistleblowing process is poor, then you run the risk of being caught out by a whistleblowing crisis that comes out-of-nowhere and for which you are unprepared.
The easiest way to avoid or mitigate a potential crisis is to have as much foresight of it as possible. Having a tried-and-tested system that provides you with as many facts as possible is key to handling the situation.
- An anonymous whistleblowing hotline shows your employees you are serious about cracking down on wrongdoing.
An external whistleblowing system emphasises the independence of that goal and gives confidence that there will be no repercussions for the caller.
- Similarly, an anonymous whistleblowing hotline demonstrates to both internal and external stakeholders that senior executives have the company or organisations' best interests at heart.
An independent, outsourced whistleblowing hotline raises the bar even further by showing everything about the system is 'above board'.
- Attempting to set up an in-house whistleblowing process is costly in terms of budget, time resources and business disruption, with no guarantee it will work correctly, be seen as impartial, or capable of being implemented and managed quickly.
Go with an expert who has experience in setting up and managing the whistleblowing process. The expert should be capable of answering all your implementation questions, provide proof of multiple existing customers, and deliver a clear delivery schedule.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.