A new study looking into whistleblowing processes in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors on both sides of the Tasman finds personal and workplace grievances, such as bullying, discrimination or harassment and unfair work practices among the top five most prevalent forms of wrongdoing across the business and local and national government.
The report, entitled Whistleblowing: New Rules, New Policies, New Vision, looked at the whistleblowing processes of 46 organisations across Australia and New Zealand. The report draws on data from a survey of almost 18,000 people who were asked about the processes for reporting wrongdoing, actual reporting practice, and their observations of the process.
Drawing on the experiences of 17,778 individuals across 46 organisations in Australia and New Zealand, the results showed that the grand majority – 81.6 per cent – of those who reported cases of unethical behaviour in their workplaces faced repercussions for speaking up, with 42 percent of reporters feeling mistreated before their complaint.
In addition, management and governance professionals who dealt with whistleblowing cases agreed that in at least 34 per cent of cases “the whistleblower suffered harassment and/or direct adverse employment impacts”.
Despite this, researchers found there is a broad consensus in both the private and public sectors that reporting suspected wrongdoing is vital to the ongoing success of organisations, with fundamental reforms – from managerial changes to new training and other procedures – arising from employee reports in 58.2 per cent of cases.
“These results show us that, while not completely unavoidable, detrimental outcomes are still very much a reality for a worrying percentage of people who come forward against organisational misbehaviour,” says project leader Professor A J Brown.
“The broad conclusion is that, although both public and private companies support whistleblowing as a means of keeping themselves honest at a theoretical level, in practice, the people who inhabit these organisations are generally not so receptive to someone who comes forward with an issue.”
The report uncovered new areas to pursue further study, including the influence of the type of alleged wrongdoing on how such cases are managed, and the prevalence of informal, “collateral” impacts on whistleblowers, including stress and isolation.
The project is thought to be the largest dataset to have been collected for the specific purpose of understanding whistleblowing in organisations, and the first to be conducted across the public and private sectors, using the same methodology, at the same time.
Associate Professor Macaulay from Victoria University of Wellington’s School of Government says the research found broad consistency in the forms of wrongdoing observed and reported by public employees in both countries and found similar reasons as to why people chose not to report wrongdoing.
“There does appear to be lower awareness of whistleblowing processes among respondents in New Zealand, and more formal training related to whistleblowing in Australia than New Zealand,” Associate Professor Macaulay says.
“But it is interesting that in New Zealand integrity and conduct issues are discussed more informally in meetings and in office conversations. We are not saying one way is more effective than the other, but it is notable that jurisdictions appear to use different channels.”
“Whistleblowing processes are vital to integrity and good governance and many organisations are becoming more aware of both the benefits and responsibilities that go with effective whistleblowing processes.”
Click here to read the full Whistleblowing: New Rules, New Policies, New Vision.