For organisations focused on addressing ethical issues in their organisation quickly and discreetly, an internally-managed complaints process – rather than a third-party service – can seem attractive.
After all, keeping complaints processes internal provides a cheap solution with a high degree of oversight and control for management…right?
Not so fast. The complexity of handling whistleblower reports internally is often underestimated, and internal complaints processes are prone to several problems that can impact their effectiveness. Here’s why.
Effective delivery of an internal complaints process is exceedingly difficult
For would-be whistleblowers, speaking up can feel like a dangerous proposition. Retribution against whistleblowers (along with vilification, stress, and employment difficulties) is well documented. Employees may fear retaliation using an internal complaints process, particularly if they have experienced negative consequences in the past for raising concerns or making complaints.
Running investigations is no mean feat. Investigators need training and effective follow-ups require sufficient resources. If the complaints process does not have adequate resources – think trained investigators, funding, and support from management – it will not conduct thorough investigations or provide meaningful resolutions.
Similarly, if the complaints process is slow to respond to complaints, memories fade and paper trails disappear, and employees lose confidence in the system. Delays can also allow situations to escalate and potentially cause further harm.
Internal systems and processes are prone to partiality, as those tasked with managing reports are pulled between the competing interests of the reporter of an ethical issue and the company they’re employed by.
“There are three types of problems compliance officers face,” say ethics researchers at the University of Quebec. “Unaligned goals, misunderstood efforts and differences in risk appreciation,”
“We find that compliance officers bear double the cost in trying to be a trustworthy agent for both [whistleblowers and management]. Towards whistleblowers, they want to be credible investigators and safeguards of confidentiality. But they also bear the cost of psychological stress because they cannot be fully transparent to whistleblowers.”
Disclosures want their concerns to be recognised and, in many instances, acted upon. Upper management wants reporters to disclose incidents quickly and discreetly and to deal with issues swiftly. Compliance officers feel that pressure acutely, but are unable to fully control whistleblower’s actions.
With investigators caught between two opposing, deeply-invested parties, investigations often fail to produce satisfying resolutions.
Third-party whistleblower hotlines
A third-party whistleblower service provides a secure platform for employees and stakeholders to report wrongdoing and unethical behaviour without fear of retaliation. Third-party hotlines operate independently of the company and its management, acting as an impartial mediator between stakeholders and those with issues to report.
Because they offer a confidential, impartial reporting channel for employees and other stakeholders, a third-party provider can assuage fears of retaliation or bias, and concerns about conflicts of interest – or the perception that the company is not fully committed to transparency and accountability.
With an internal hotline, there may be concerns about the expertise of the staff responsible for managing the hotline and responding to issues.
Third-party service providers have specialised expertise in conducting investigations, which leads to more thorough and credible investigations. EthicsPro’s protected disclosure officers are experts in incident management and case tracking.
Incomplete reports are common and can make it difficult for investigation teams to follow up, but Report It Now’s EthicsPro telephone hotline service uses trained disclosure officers to empathetically and thoroughly interview reporters according to best practice standards. Whether a report is made via telephone hotline, web form, email or other means, even incomplete submissions are logged and sent to internal teams for review.
Provisioning third-party whistleblower hotlines
Report It Now offers secure and confidential reporting channels for employees and other stakeholders, helping organisations identify potential issues early, take appropriate action, and build trust.
Support honesty and integrity in your organisation with third-party ethics and whistleblower services for enterprise.