Listening Up: Getting Whistleblower Hotlines Right

External whistleblower hotlines can offer crucial insight into the health of an organisation. But if making a report is a painful, degrading, annoying or futile experience, that insight will be lost

As part of a robust compliance and ethics program, an external whistleblower hotline is a crucial piece of the reporting puzzle. 

For an employee or organisation member who feels compelled to report inappropriate behaviour in the workplace however, actually lodging a complaint can be a frightening experience. Stories of pushback are common: Not being believed, being branded a ‘troublemaker’ or ‘poor sport’, character assassination, firings; it’s no wonder that nearly 60 percent of all misconduct observed in the workplace is never reported

Building trust into an organisation

There’s no one thing that automatically builds trust in an organisation. Several pillars need to be in place: appropriate tone-setting from leaders, the provision of an open ‘Speak Up’ culture, as well as clear guidelines around what should be done if misconduct is observed, and access to an impartial but empathetic reporting process.

Making a report shouldn’t be a painful experience, but it easily can be, and all too often reporters come away with a sense that they are not served by their organisation’s Speak Up culture or reporting systems. 

In a recent Compliance Perspective podcast, Adam Balfour, VP and General Counsel for Corporate Compliance and Latin America at Bridgestone argues that organisations too often look at whistleblower hotlines as exercises in data collection – rather than recognising the human challenges of the ethical reporting process.   

“Who is the helpline really meant to help?” asks Balfour.

“Is it just the company’s helpline? A way for the company to gather information about potential issues? Or is it something that is genuinely going to help employees?”

“If you want to have a speak up culture, then the reporting process can’t be so painful that someone is immediately going to regret speaking up and never report again.” [Listen here].

Empathy first

Yes, whistleblower hotlines are a crucial conduit for information regarding the health of an organisation. But they are also an important signpost of an organisation’s commitment to the wellbeing of its members, so recognising suffering (if it has occurred) and encouraging and assuring reporters that they are safe and are being listened to is an important part of the process. 

It’s time for a ‘people-led’ approach to information gathering.

Reporters should be asked “How do you feel? Are you okay?” What is being reported needs to be acknowledged – even if it’s uncomfortable to acknowledge it – and empathy demonstrated. Yes, certain information – the ‘who, what, where, when’ – does need to be recorded. But it needs to be done is a way that supports reporters and their wellbeing. 

Many whistleblowers will be unsure whether making a report is worth the potential personal cost. Assure them that it is. 

Remember: a report is not a bad thing. A high volume of whistleblower calls to a company’s hotline indicates that the system is functioning properly, that compliance and ethics training is working, and that a proper tone – backed by a strong organisational culture – is encouraging good ethical standards.  

Encourage people to come forward if they witness wrongdoing in the workplace. Support them when they do. 

whistleblower hotlines

Third party provision of whistleblower hotlines

Hotlines are a proven method of anonymously and securely gaining insight into the health of an organisation and revealing ethical issues and problems before they grow. The best way to provision an anonymous, secure whistleblower hotline is via a third-party whistleblower hotline provider. 

External hotlines provide anonymity, impartiality and a best-practice experience for reporters, as well as training, implementation and guidance for senior staff, tailored to the specific dynamics of the organisation. 

It’s not enough to hand these important functions off to a call centre. Those charged with responding to whistleblower hotline calls need to be fully trained around the complexities of protected disclosures, have an understanding of the structure of the business and the industry in which it operates, as well as the proper procedures according to best practice and the reporting management systems being used.  

Third party provider Report It Now offers an integrated system for keeping organisations free from unethical behaviour with skilled protected disclosure officers especially trained to manage hotline disclosures according to current best-practice – including nurturing report submitters through the sometimes difficult process of making a report.

Fostering an honest and open culture in the workplace is no small task. But with the right tools, the right training and a human-led approach to speaking up, preventing and identifying unethical or potentially unlawful activity can be as easy as taking the time to listen. 

Contact us

To learn more about human-led ethical reporting processes, get in touch. 

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