Once the decision has been taken to look for an external whistleblowing provider there are a huge range of providers to choose from, and what they offer varies greatly.
That's why digging a bit deeper into what a whistleblowing service provider actually provides, before signing a contract should be absolutely essential!
Here are seven of the most common pitfalls we hear about again and again.
1) Is it a Whistleblowing Service or a Tick-box Exercise?
Is the whistleblower able to use a real telephone hotline to make a report?
Or is what's on offer just 'a nod' to the Law?
The EU Whistleblowing Directive on Whistleblowing mandates that a whistleblower should be offered a telephone hotline in addition to any online or email reporting channel.
Several of the larger whistleblowing hotline providers simply offer voicemail facilities.
But a voicemail can never provide the kind of in-depth whistleblowing reports that are required to help senior managers handle incidents. and more importantly, it suggests the provider is offering the absolute minimum level of support to 'tick a box'.
In addition, a voicemail does not guarantee an anonymous hotline service to the whistleblower. A voicemail is, in effect, a recording, and recordings can be shared.
What level of service will you be getting? What level of service do you want?
A cut-price solution might lower the cost, but definitely won't furnish you with the level of detail often required to stop wrongdoing in the workplace.
2) Does the Whistleblower Hotline have Clear Processes?
It takes a lot of mental strength to become a whistleblower.
When surveyed, only 13% of UK respondents had actively blown the whistle, and this is emblematic of a lack of trust in internal whistleblowing arrangements.
When making a report a whistleblower is taking a major step, often at some risk to their career and potentially their well-being, and it's hard for a whistleblower to hold their nerve.
So, the less clear the process is - especially around key features such as how a whistleblower hotline handles anonymity or partial anonymity - the less effective the reporting system will be at instilling confidence that reports are being handled ethically and correctly.
How does a prospective whistleblower hotline process actually work? How many reports might your organisation receive per year?
An employee hotline that doesn't actually get any reports is likely to be a sign of masked issues, rather than a sign that everything is going well.
3) Will Whistleblowing Reports allow you to React Quickly Enough?
An organisation needs to know of potential wrongdoing as soon as possible.
Reaction time is often critical to solving any fraud, racism, or health and safety violations before they happen, or mitigating the effects of them before they begin to damage business reputations.
Does the potential whistleblowing service provide clear response workflows that allow you to react quickly and easily to any new issues?
Preferably any solution needs to be cloud based so that managers responsible for handling whistleblowing reports can access them from anywhere in the world.
4) Do Call-handlers Use Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional Intelligence represents a whistleblowing call-handlers' ability to read and react to a whistleblower's emotions.
This can't be done in an email, an online form, or a voicemail. The opportunities for misunderstanding are so much greater via these mediums.
Yet, that's exactly what many whistleblowing providers offer.
A trained call-handler is adept at handling difficult, often fraught, sometimes threatening situations. The best have decades of experience.
Remember, an effective whistleblowing hotline isn't about providing advice. it's about getting report managers the maximum amount of information, so that they can resolve the issue.
To do that, a real live human call-handler is needed.
A call-handler keeps the whistleblower calm, and draws out as many factual details as possible, so that the report they provide to an organisation is as full and actionable as possible.
Does the potential solution provider use call-handlers?
Many providers save on overheads by minimising any human interaction, and this can often be counterproductive. Human interaction and emotional intelligence allow report managers to better understand the situation because they can react and open up the conversation.
Conversely, a lack of human engagement will hamper any whistleblowing investigation due to limited factual information.
5) Does the Provider have an Easily Accessible Knowledgebase?
But of course, not every call to a whistleblowing hotline is actually a whistleblowing call, and not every whistleblower will feel comfortable actually talking to someone.
Which is why a good external supplier will always provide a knowledgebase of support articles that helps callers find solutions to common user roadblocks.
Knowledgebase articles and Frequently Asked Questions FAQs are fundamental to good customer service in whistleblowing because they help minimise false reports and set caller expectations for what to expect.
For example, a potential whistleblower might use the whistleblowing hotline to make a report about not getting a pay rise. This is not necessarily a true whistleblowing report. Perhaps the caller should have spoken with their manager first.
By helping the potential whistleblower identify what is and isn't a legitimate cause for whistleblowing, a knowledgebase helps eliminate reports that aren't really whistleblowing issues.
Try to be as clear as possible about the additional support a whistleblowing solution provides.
Does the whistleblowing vendor provide a good range of knowledgebase articles and FAQs? Are they easily accessible? How often are they reviewed?
A lack of FAQs or knowledgebase often results in extra report management time being needed, to sift real whistleblowing reports from standard HR and other issues.
6) Are their telephone hotlines true whistleblowing services?
Many Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) do have a whistleblowing advice line. but it's not a true whistleblowing reporting hotline.
Employee Assistance Programmes are exactly that. assistance programmes.
They're not designed and resourced to collect factual data and whistleblowing reports. They're designed to offer advice to employees on how to handle the subject of whistleblowing.
This does sometimes cause confusion.
The problem lies in the collection of data. To be a bona-fide whistleblowing hotline provider you must be able to take and store personal data, and to have the ability to do it openly, semi-anonymously and anonymously.
This adds several new dimensions to the levels of security and access that are required, and not every EAP is capable of this.
In fact, most EAPs require the employee to identify themselves by their employee number or email to gain access to them in the first place. no anonymity there!
Do you know what level of advice or reporting you are getting?
Just because an EAP offers whistleblowing advice it doesn't mean that the process is capable of keeping a record of the conversation, converting it into a report, enabling anonymity, or of providing access and communications between the organisation and whistleblower in line with GDPR regulations. most simply offer advice.
7) Do they provide Anonymised Whistleblowing Benchmarking?
How does an organisation know whether it is getting the right number of reports through? How do senior managers know that those reports are being handled correctly?
That's why benchmarking should be another essential part of your due diligence.
The best whistleblowing reporting system providers will collate the anonymised data from all their customers and all their reports on an annual basis. They'll analyse it and provide it back to you benchmarked against your industry, channel of reporting, volumes, and successful closures.
Why is this so important?
It's important because this allows you to justify your budget spend on any external whistleblowing reporting system you use. It allows you to clearly benchmark the success of your inbound reports against your peers.
So, always double-check the employee hotline provider you are considering will supply this.
If you can't access this information, you'll be missing out on a valuable baseline that will help you gauge the success of your whistleblowing programme.
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.