May 13, 2007

Whistleblowing: Call time on fraud

'The five most dangerous words in business may be "everybody else is doing it ".' So said Warren Buffett, the billionaire businessman and philanthropist, in a memo to his top managers at Berkshire Hathaway.

And that 'everybody's doing it' is one of the top reasons that staff give for not reporting misconduct. According to research by the Institute of Business Ethics, of those employees who witnessed misconduct in their workplace, only a quarter actually reported it. The main reason staff gave for not reporting their concerns was fear of alienation from colleagues (21%), closely followed by a sense that it was none of their business (19%). Fear that their job would be jeopardised (13%) and that everybody’s doing it (12%) were not far behind.

These results show that much needs to be done if staff are to be encouraged and feel supported in voicing their concerns. Employee welfare aside, companies can gain tangible business benefits if they ensure such mechanisms are in place.

...A working environment in which it is made clear that bullying, harassment and discrimination will not be tolerated could lead to fewer pay-outs at employment tribunals. Another benefit could be that good employees are retained with increased staff morale and loyalty. But perhaps the most compelling reason is that it makes for a happier and more productive workforce if staff believe and see that a culture of mutual trust exists.

...An effective whistleblowing policy creates a culture of trust and makes business sense...

Key elements

Board-level buy in:
The CEO or another senior director should set out the organisation’s commitment to its speak-up policy. This is a good place to make a statement on the support that the organisation will give to those who raise concerns in good faith.

Purpose of the policy:
This explains what the speak-up policy is, and gives examples of issues where employees may have concerns.

Outline procedures:
This section will set out the details of the procedures that individuals should follow when raising a concern. It should also include a statement on confidentiality and/or anonymity and encouragement for employees to speak to their colleagues, line managers or other managers if appropriate.

What next?
Staff need to know what they can expect if they speak up. Here, you should describe the details of the process that the investigation will follow. Set out the principles guiding the recording and investigating of reports, such as confidentiality, protection and feedback. What can the employee expect in terms of timeframes for investigations, call backs and progress reports? It should also reiterate the company’s commitment to support the employee raising the concern.

List other supporting documents:
Typically, this will include guidance for managers, guidance for staff, code of ethics, posters and desktop reminders that are available. The role of any call lines/web pages: when to use them and how they can help.

Warning of disciplinary action
: This is a policy that has to be taken seriously. Outline clearly the likely outcome for malicious use of the line.
By Katherine Bradshaw. From:

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