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3 Ways to Encourage a Speak-Up Culture

3 Ways to Encourage a Speak-Up Culture

It's Important to Allow Employees to Come Forward With Reports of Wrongdoing

Getting employees to actually speak up and report when they see signs of wrongdoing can be hard. Many times if wrongdoing is happening in the workplace, there are employees who know it's happening. Yet perhaps they don't have confidence, courage, or incentive to speak up. It's hard to blame them when we've seen how devastating repercussions for whistleblowers can be.

But organizations that have taken the time to implement an ethics reporting system generally have done so because they are serious about protecting their employees and business. So it's in the best interest for organizations to encourage employees to report wrongdoing internally and anonymously, and to work towards building a culture where employees feel comfortable about speaking up.

Gaining employee trust can happen easily if an organization is willing to set examples, and manage whistleblower complaints. Here's a few ways to do just that when an employee has the courage to come forward: 

Act Quickly
One of the most important ways to gain employee trust is to act quickly as soon as a complaint has been recorded. Whether the whistleblower has chosen to remain anonymous or not, by responding and acknowledging the complaint shows that the organization is serious about the effort the employee has taken. The ability for an organizational representative and the anonymous whistleblower to communicate back and forth and investigate the complaint is a very powerful tool to enable employee trust. No matter who from the organization investigates, it should happen quickly, and in a non-judgemental way. The use of a third party ethics reporting system, where whistleblowers can speak-up anonymously and monitor their case is a powerful tool companies can use to build trust and enable a speak-up culture.

Investigate the Complaint
Whistleblower complaints can range from small infractions to serious accusations. Depending on what the complaint is about, the organization should determine if the complaint needs to be investigated. Small issues, like stealing paper from the supply closet can perhaps be handled by a person in HR. However, serious allegations of abuse, fraud or bribery are bigger matters. Getting to the bottom of these is important as they could lead to serious civil or criminal liability issues for the organization. The organization needs to determine whether or not it needs to conduct an investigation using inside or outside counsel. Anonymously communicate often with the whistleblower through an ethics reporting system, to continue gathering facts to support the complaint.

Risk Assessment
Depending on the seriousness of the situation, the organization may need to figure out if it needs to self-disclose to the government due to regulatory requirements. The organization may also want to conduct interviews with the whistleblower and request supporting documents. This might better determine the seriousness of the whistleblower's allegations. Investigating up front and determining if the risk is significant will allow organizations to give thought to hiring outside counsel or handling the complaint internally. Using the knowledge gained from investigating and assessing the complaint can be put to good use by revamping internal controls to enable change, and/or updating a Code of Conduct to clearly define expected behaviour.

Wrongdoing and misconduct can be preventable. You just need to do something about it. Incorporating a strong compliance program that includes an ethics reporting system where employees feel empowered to speak up when they see wrongdoing is smart business. Learn more about creating a speak-up culture.

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photo Amanda Nieweler
About the Author
Amanda writes for WhistleBlower Security about ethics, compliance, workplace culture, and whistleblower hotlines. Amanda brings her nearly two decades of risk and compliance experience to the WBS blog where she is dedicated to helping people and companies promote speak-up cultures.