Whistleblowing: Best practices & why is it important?
As a human resources (HR) professional, at one point in your career, you may come across a whistleblower. Whistleblowers are individuals who would come to you (often discreetly) to report on a possible fraud, a dishonest activity or any other wrongdoings committed by another party at the workplace. Generally, these whistleblowers will then seek protection from any unfair treatment or adverse consequences as a result of blowing the whistle.
However, in the 2015 Asia-Pacific Fraud Survey Report from accountancy firm Ernst and Young (EY), 45 percent of companies surveyed in the region admitted that they have yet to implement a whistleblower hotline. A dedicated hotline for whistleblowing is the fundamental infrastructure that is required to encourage people to “do the right thing” and is often seen as one of the most important steps organisations can take in showing their support towards ethical behaviour.
While this may be true, it also really depends on whether these hotlines are actively being used. The 2015 report further revealed that only 53 percent of respondents are prepared to use a whistleblower hotline as compared to 80 percent of respondents in their 2013 Asia-Pacific Fraud Survey Report. This significant drop was the result of an increase in fear of “insufficient legal protection and/or the lack of confidentiality for whistleblowers.”
Regardless if there are laws that protect whistleblowers, companies themselves must push for greater protection for whistleblowers as whistleblowing is the key element of anti-corruption measures within the workplace. They are the first to come into any form of contact or to witness incidences such as violations of state or local laws, billing for services and goods that are not delivered or any type of fraudulent financial activity, which can cause more damage to the company if left undiscovered.
So how do you encourage people to come up and use these whistleblowing hotlines when the need arises and what are the best practices that you can take?
1. Set whistleblowing policy & hotline
Firstly, if your organisation does not have one, start by implementing a whistleblowing policy and ensure that every employee is aware of its existence. There are many ways you can do this, whether it is through employee training sessions, lunch seminars or promotional materials. Employees must be informed of the appropriate steps that they can take in reporting any such issues. Another component that they need to have is a whistleblower hotline. For best results, the hotline should be administered by an independent third party, a body that is not within the company, to ensure anonymity and that all information are kept under strictest confidentiality.
2. Provide confidence to employees
Secondly, your employees must believe that their concerns will be taken seriously and that immediate responses will be given to investigate onto the issues raised. Ensure that you walk the talk and appropriate actions are taken. Employees must also be given the confidence that their reports will be dealt in a confidential manner as they are risking their positions to be subjected to intimidation and retaliation from those who are engaged in the misconduct.
3. Practice an open-door policy
In this aspect, HR plays the biggest role in ensuring that employees feel safe and comfortable to come forward with any issue. HR can help by promoting a culture that is with strong ethics and practice an open-door policy where employees would not feel afraid to blow the whistle or seek for advice from a HR professional. Apart from adhering to the true open-door policy, you can also initiate by greeting them and find time to meet them on a regular basis to develop that desired level of trust and healthy work relationship.
4. Use anonymous suggestion boxes
Asians typically have cultures that are dramatically different from people in the West. We have this tendency to not speak out for fear of being judged, let alone having the fear of repercussion when reporting on a suspicious act. The truth, as is often the case, Asians prefer to report an issue anonymously. Although snitching may sound quite sinister, it has helped the police prevent crimes in many ways. So consider setting up anonymous suggestion boxes around the workplace. Include forms that require whistleblowers to reveal supported proof or at least a number for you to contact for the anonymous tip.
The 2015 EY report also found that 80 percent of employees are reluctant to work for companies that are involved in any form of corruption or bribery. The findings should serve as a wake-up call for businesses and organisations to step up efforts in a cohesive fraud prevention framework. Failure to do so would mean losing out on promising talents and cause the best employees to leave, leading to higher turnover rates and expensive recruitment campaigns in a highly competitive job market.
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