4 Reasons Employees Don't Blow the Whistle: How to Foster Trust and Support in the Workplace

4 Reasons Employees Don't Blow the Whistle

Trust and support should not be a limited workplace commodity

Many employees feel that trust and support given out by leadership is hard to come by. In their organization there is a convinced view that many of the decisions that are made are unjust. This sentiment of workplace injustice can breed employee dissatisfaction and disempowerment, hindering collaboration and productivity.

When employees believe that trust and support in the workplace is genuinely provided, this crucial aspect of a workplace culture will help form the bedrock of a positive workplace environment that encourages productivity, collaboration, and overall well-being. When employees feel trusted and supported by colleagues and leadership, they are more likely to be better engaged in their job duties, and they will feel encouraged to contribute new and creative ideas.

However, there are many reasons why employees don't, or won't blow the whistle on wrongdoing. For many it's a stressful concept. What will they think of me? How will I be treated? Will anything be done about it? The feelings multiply to the point where staying silent is just easier. Here are 4 reasons many employees aren't blowing the whistle when they see wrongdoing.

    • Employees feel the culture around decision making is unjust
      Nothing's going to happen if I blow the whistle so why bother! When employees feel that a person, or group of people, are behaving in a negative manner, or engaging in activity that will harm the organization, and that person or people have not been dealt with in a justified manner, those employees will believe the workplace fosters a culture of disillusionment where employee contributions and concerns are undervalued and are being disregarded.

      This disappointment in leadership will start to manifest as frustration and resentment. These dangerous thoughts will simmer beneath the surface and erode workplace morale and productivity. If employees feel marginalized or overlooked, they are less likely to be fully invested in their job functions and will begin to remove themselves mentally from the environment lessening their effort, or care for their work. When the culture is tainted by mistrust and perceived injustice, breakdowns in communication and collaboration will make it increasingly difficult to grow a productive team.

    • Employees don’t trust the workplace grievance procedures
      Lack of trust may be built on past experiences where past reported grievances have been dismissed or mishandled. This ongoing act of 'see something, say something, nothing happens' can lead to employees feeling unsupported and vulnerable. Employees may remain silent for fear of retaliation or further marginalization.

      As silence in reporting any bad behaviour perpetuates, unresolved conflicts and underlying tensions fester if left unaddressed. Lack of trust in any policy or procedure handed down by management will lead to employees believing in an unfair and unequitable work environment. Employees may choose to suffer in silence rather than risk retaliation or further marginalization by speaking up about workplace wrongdoing.

    • Employees feel they will be stigmatized if they raise concerns
      When employees feel their workplace culture has fostered a stigma associated with raising concerns, the effect can be the downfall of open communication and transparency within the workplace. Fear of retaliation, or being labeled a troublemaker, is a leading driver to employees remaining silent. Employees experiencing legitimate grievances often find themselves torn between speaking up, or preserving their social standing within the organization. They find themselves having to carry the burden of managing the situation themselves, rather than receiving support from leadership or human resources

      This fear of speaking up not only stifles individuals’ voices, it also ensures critical issues to go unaddressed. Neglecting critical issues can have legal and financial ramifications for the organization. Failure to address issues raised relating to bullying, harassment, discrimination, safety violations, or ethical misconduct may result in an organization facing costly lawsuits, regulatory fines, and reputational damage.

    • There’s a sense that leaders do not care about worker health and safety
      Skepticism in leadership's ability to prioritize worker health and safety over productivity can make employees feel neglected and undervalued. A decline in morale takes place when employees question the sincerity of leadership's commitment to their well-being. A lack of focus on worker health and safety can also result in increased incidents of workplace accidents.

      The skepticism surrounding leadership's commitment to employee well-being can lead to a cascade of negative consequences. Employees will question the organization's mission and values and assume that implemented policies and procedures are just lip service or just words on paper. A workplace culture that neglects health and safety can result in absenteeism, reduced productivity, and increased turnover rates.

How can leadership promote a believable whistleblowing process?

  • Promote Open Communication: Do your employees feel safe and confident to ask questions, express thoughts, or share their opinions without the fear of retaliation or judgement? Leadership can help employees feel comfortable to ask questions and express thoughts or concerns by creating an environment where employees feel safe from any form of retaliation.
  • Encourage Risk-Taking: Are employees encouraged to take calculated risks in their roles, and do they know that failures are learning opportunities, not punishment opportunities? Leadership should reinforce that taking risks isn't a bad thing. Calculated risks are an opportunity for innovation and growth. Help teams celebrate those risks that were successes, and create learning opportunities from those that failed.
  • Welcome Respectful Disagreement: Can employees voice their disagreements or criticisms in a respectful and constructive manner without the fear of negative consequences? Diverse perspectives should be valued and respected. Leaders can help nurture respectful disagreement by establishing rules around respectful communication, active listening, avoiding personal attacks, and managing conflict resolution.
  • Provide a Feedback Culture: Does the workplace foster a culture of feedback, where employees feel safe providing, and receiving feedback openly? Leaders can normalize the practice of giving and receiving feedback regularly, both formally and informally, and recognize and appreciate individuals who actively seek feedback and demonstrate a willingness to learn and grow.
  • Practice Empathy and Support: Does the environment encourage actively engaging with each other to understand feelings and to offer assistance or encouragement making each other feel heard and valued? Promote a culture of empathy by encouraging understanding and consideration of others' perspectives and feelings. Train managers and team leaders on empathetic leadership techniques, such as active listening and validating emotions.
  • Teach Inclusivity: Does each and every employee feel included and appreciated for their unique perspectives and contributions regardless of background and culture? Diversity and inclusion training programs can help raise awareness of unconscious bias and promote inclusive behaviours. Leaders can encourage allyship and solidarity among colleagues to create a supportive and inclusive environment.

In an environment where employees feel safe and unjudged, they are more likely to speak-up, share ideas, and actively contribute to building a positive and productive atmosphere. This cultivates a culture that appreciates diversity of thought and plays a pivotal role in promoting a believable 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.

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