6 Whistleblower Helpline Myths Debunked | WhistleBlower Security

6 Whistleblower Helpline Myths Debunked | WhistleBlower Security

No more excuses for not having an ethics helpline. Six myths debunked!

COVID has had a significant impact on businesses globally. It has lead to a differentiation in how employees work and how organizations operate compared to pre-pandemic times. We certainly can't expect that employees' perceptions of their workplace and the behaviours that take place in their workplace wouldn't be impacted by the unusual circumstances that are far removed from regular working operations.

In a recent Global Business Ethics Survey, conducted during the peak of the pandemic, there were noticeable changes over a 20 year period - 2000 compared to 2020. "In 2000, only 10% of U.S. employees worked in an environment with a strong ethical culture (21% in 2020). And only 56% of employees reported misconduct they observed in 2000 (86% in 2020)."

We can see that reporting of misconduct increased significantly. The pandemic changed the perspective of most people. With these changes to work-life balance and other uncertainties, many employees found themselves more willing and eager to speak-up about misconduct, or other concerns.

6 Whistleblower Helpline Myths Debunked

It's always been important, but never more so than now to have a mechanism in place that provides employees with a safe and anonymous centralized location to voice any concerns they have, and speak-up about misconduct. But if you're an organization or leader who feels that an ethics reporting helpline shouldn't be a priority, we have a few myths to bust! 

Generally, employees want to have a voice in the core operations of their company. This includes what types of customers they serve, what services or products they produce and serve to those customers, and how those products or services are established and distributed or sold.


We don't have fraud, abuse, or other misconduct in our company

Yes you do. You just aren't aware of it. ACFE's Report to the Nations consistently shares the median duration of fraud is typically around 18 months before being found out. This represents about 5% of revenue lost to fraud. Smaller organizations can't afford this. Many organizations with hotlines have opened them up to vendors and customers to report misconduct and these organizations have received valuable reports made by their third-parties. Reports from third-parties have helped these organizations identify bribes, kickbacks and other procurement-related schemes.

Some of the more common types of frauds that hurt smaller business are payroll fraud, false invoicing, or timecard fraud, for example. Smaller business tend to have limited resources to manage internal controls and when these frauds occur, it can take a while for that business to recover, if it's lucky.

We have an open-door policy and employees can bring concerns to their supervisors

Yet a challenge remains when colleagues become too close and barriers emerge preventing employees from speaking openly. Many times managers are nervous about being blamed for misconduct that may be happening. And imagine how a whistleblower could feel when reporting sensitive information. They may be worried about being found out, or worried about what their colleagues will think. The employee may also be worried about retaliation, and may be concerned about working with the person or people he or she reported about.

Think about this example. If you're a manager who says you have an open-door policy, that's great. But what if you have a member of your team who is often called out for good work, but another member of your team suspects this person is engaging in unethical behavior. As the manager, how would you receive this report against the team member you are always praising? And how would you treat the other team member to spoke up?

My organization is small, we don't need a helpline

Wrong. Small businesses suffer greatly when fraud occurs because they simply can't afford the hit to revenue. Not to mention the reputational damage that is critically detrimental for not for profits, or other businesses that leaves the public questioning their business practices. Many small businesses don't have the resources to provide necessary internal controls. Where these resources are limited or departments are siloed, an ethics helpline can provide an extra layer of security to protect the business.

A helpline will be abused by frivolous reports

It is a legitimate concern that a helpline will open a box and suddenly everyone is complaining about everything. Ensure you have a whistleblower policy that outlines to all stakeholders the types of concerns that should be reported to the helpline. The purpose of a whistleblower policy is to encourage your employees and any other stakeholder to speak up about any concerns they have or misconduct they have witnessed that meets the guidelines of your policy.

When creating your whistleblower policy, consider your existing corporate culture. Ask the question, “is there an opportunity to enhance it”? Has your organization historically had a culture where employees feel unsure about speaking up? Use this opportunity to improve the level of expectations and adherence to your corporate culture that employees have. As well, train and educate your stakeholders on when and how to use the helpline.

My company can't afford to implement a helpline

A hotline really isn't that expensive. One issue identified could return your investment tenfold. Generally you have one shot at getting the truth of any misconduct before it spirals out of hand! If an internal reporting helpline is not available, you may run the risk of employees going outside the organization to regulators or the media to tell their story.

Most misconduct is discovered through whistleblowing tips. And oftentimes, your employees are closest to the action and the most important information. Capturing that misconduct thoroughly and accurately using a whistleblower helpline enables you to put a stop to it sooner.

We have an internally run speak-up program and it's not generating feedback so why outsource?

There’s no right or wrong number of calls to a whistleblower helpline, but usage rates can provide clues as to the effectiveness of your internal program or workplace culture. For example, if you are receiving a smaller number of reports, or none at all, especially if you are a larger organization, the question could be asked “do employees know when and how to speak up”. Or do employees feel safe speaking up?

As well, unethical behaviour that could be very harmful to organizations often remains hidden due to employees’ fear of retaliation and a lack of confidentiality with an internally run ethics reporting system. Anonymity is key. If you’re not hearing anything, it means something is happening and you don’t know about it.

A speak-up culture is a workplace culture that values and encourages employees to express their fears, provide their feedback, ask questions, raise concerns, and make suggestions without fear of retaliation or any other kind of harm resulting from speaking up. A whistleblower helpline allows employees to safely bring their concerns to management.

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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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