Only 13% of UK survey respondents say they have been whistleblowers.
Such a low figure is emblematic of the lack of trust in internal whistleblowing arrangements.
The very fact that 78-80% of employees fear the consequences of whistleblowing is directly related to the fear that internal whistleblowing arrangements are not robust enough.
In other words, a potential whistleblower... rightly or wrongly... fears that they're going to be let down by an internal speak up process.
In this short article I hope to make the case for calling in independent investigators to respond to whistleblowing allegations from the very beginning of a case.
We all have to live and work with and amongst each other, and experience shows we see wrongdoing quite often.
As Meithe states in his research:
'Workers observe fraud, waste, and abuse at work on a daily basis. Sexual harassment, employee theft, breaches of confidentiality, discriminatory employment practices, safety and health violations, consumer rip-offs, and financial frauds are both endemic to our society and a growing national epidemic.' 1
'Reporting misconduct to an official within the company is an equally unattractive option.'
Why should this be?
'A primary source of the negative attitudes toward snitching is early childhood experiences. Children develop a negative view toward tattletales because they are often victimized by, and punished for, snitching.'
So, it's absolutely normal not to want to 'snitch', 'peach', 'sprag' - or any number of other terms - on your colleagues.
In other words, we've been conditioned not to want to do it from being very young.
And that's the first reason to choose an independent whistleblowing investigation team... anonymity and trust makes whistleblowing more likely.
It's easier for a potential whistleblower to speak to an external person anonymously, than it is to face someone they know.
Facing someone you know might result in embarrassment - you don't snitch on your colleagues says the inner child - and worse, if it gets back to the wrongdoers it might result in reprisals.
But by removing the stigma of their colleagues and/or management knowing who has 'blown the whistle', and by guaranteeing their anonymity, a whistleblower is far more likely to actually go through with the call... an additional 7% more are likely to in fact 2.
Whistleblower Investigator Knowledge
Next, let's look at knowledge.
It's often not enough to simply accept what a whistleblower says without investigating further, because levels of education, memory recall, evidential collection, and willingness to disclose the full facts vary hugely from person to person.
And that's why you need investigators with experience.
The best investigators are often former members of the Police or other such investigative professions.
These people already have years of extensive knowledge on how to ask appropriate and probing questions. The type of questions that get you the answers you need to make an accurate assessment of any whistleblowing case report.
Knowledge shows through and it's why a higher percentage of cases are closed when using experienced investigators.
Whistleblowing Investigation Experience
This is a major area that can make or break an investigation, and it's where a surprisingly large number of in-house investigations go dramatically wrong.
A simple lack of experience can force accidental errors.
Here are the most common:
- Failing to recognise how serious the whistleblowing report is and take a proportionate response.
- Not including the people with the right skills and experience on the investigation team.
- Lack of planning and failure to set parameters.
- Failing to consider legal privilege from the very start of the investigation, which could lead to valuable sensitive information and evidential documents being left without protection and subject to litigation.
- Deletion of important data - by either accident or design - because employees haven't been issued a preservation order.
- Not retaining evidence because servers haven't been backed up at appropriate intervals.
- Amazingly, you might not believe it, but in the rush to solve the whistleblowing issue, many appointed in-house investigators fail to take legal advice. This alone can cause serious legal issues further into the whistleblowing investigation.
- Undermining a supposedly impartial whistleblowing investigation by having, or even appearing to have, a member of the investigation team that might have a conflict of interest. If this is perceived all that happens is any investigation findings are rendered ineffective.
- Inadvertently revealing the identity of the whistleblower, or failing to protect them from retaliation, can often result in the whole whistleblowing procedure being tainted, leading to a reduction in trust and fewer disclosures.
- Failing to act on the findings of the investigation can cause almost as much ill-will as running an investigation badly. Failing to take remedial action flags to all involved - the whistleblower, the investigators, and all employees - that either the investigation was either toothless, not taken seriously, or that senior management never intended it to go anywhere.
- Not notifying or delaying notification to the relevant authorities, such as a financial or data regulator, or providing legal notification to the civil or criminal authorities.
It's not enough to have a whistleblowing policy in place, and it's often not enough to have nominated internal people to investigate whistleblowing reports either... there's just too much that can go wrong through lack of experience and knowledge.
And that's if the lack of an impartial, independent investigation team doesn't put the employee off blowing the whistle in the first place.
You'll get 7% more reports by ensuring the whistleblower is anonymous, or more comfortable using an independent service.
That's got to be good, hasn't it?
What's more, by using experienced and knowledgeable investigators, you're far more likely to be able to resolve a whistleblowing case, simply because the investigators are equally far more likely to provide you with the level of in-depth information required to find a solution.
1 'Whistleblowing at Work: Tough Choices in Exposing Fraud, Waste, and Abuse on the Job', Routledge, 1999
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.