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Get Your Employees to Actually Use That Ethics Hotline!

After All, It's Not Just a Pretty Piece of Furniture!

Do you have an ethics hotline? Do your employees use it?

You want to ensure that your employees are actually using the hotline you've taken time to get up and running (that goes for web portal too). Are they using it? Perhaps they don't know about it. Or perhaps they're scared.

Most organizations agree that ethics hotlines are essential. So let's get away from treating them like 'that relative' who comes over for dinner that everyone avoids sitting next to at the dinner table and pretends isn't there.

Ethics hotlines - good
'That relative' - well we all have one

Here's a few reasons why your employees may be shying away from actually picking up the phone (or sitting in front of the laptop) and voicing their concerns. stock photo keyboard red key hotline

  • They fear that a hotline based inside your company means their confidentiality can't or won't be appropriately protected.

A strong third-party ethics reporting provider allows the employee the option to remain anonymous completely! Equally important is the ability for the employee and designated company representative to have a continued conversation back and forth via the reporting system, where at no time, the employees' identity will be known. Companies who have implemented the right type of ethics reporting and case management system do so, not because they want to rat out employees, but because they want to know what is happening and stop any bad behaviour as soon as possible.

  • They feel that an external hotline means that ethics concerns aren't really taken seriously internally.

In fact the opposite is true. An external hotline service provider is actually providing the company a thorough, and extensive, system for employees to report concerns. The third-party and the company work together to get a system up and running, taking time and effort to make it so. An internally run system typically has a 'band-aid' effect. Checked off the box so to speak. If a company has taken the time and effort to implement a third-party system, you can bet they are serious about employees and their concerns.

  • They feel that a hotline provider, whether internal or external, won't have the authority to actually do anything about the reported problem(s).

A fair statement. Any third-party provider is actually only supplying the tools and experience necessary to allow a company the ability to provide its employees with a safe a secure place to voice their concerns. Third-party ethics hotline providers are not in the business, nor do they have the authority, to actually do anything about reports that come in. You can imagine the legal implications! But as mentioned above, if a company has taken the time to implement a third-party system, and that system is robust enough, employees can rest assured that their concerns will be investigated correctly until a resolution is found.

  • They aren't clear about when or how to use the hotline.

When a company implements an ethics hotline, that usually accompanies a Code of Ethics and/or a whistleblower policy. A truly involved company will take the time to ensure that employees understand what constitutes an ethical concern, and when and how to voice it. Whether it be lunch and learns, employee training, promotional materials, role playing, there's a number of ways a company can educate it's employees and keep that knowledge top of mind.

  • They would much rather speak with a manager or executive they know personally and trust.

If you have an open and communicative culture, then that's great. But there could be a drawback to only speaking concerns verbally too. A spoken communication doesn't have any proof behind it. What if the manager did a one-eighty and disagreed with the employee? Also I'm pretty sure the SEC doesn't accept 'verbal' as proof. Maintaining incidents inside a system that logs all activity (privately and securely of course) gives you, and regulators, the proof of what happened, what action was taken and what the outcome was.

Companies that are serious about not only their employees' well-being, but also the company's in the eyes of the law, know that a third-party ethics hotline works!

Whistleblowing Hotlines Work

  • Good business and risk management and good corporate governance
  • Deter malpractice and avoid wrong-doing, maintaining and improving performance
  • To protect staff, customers and the public
  • To meet the expectations of regulators
  • By encouraging employees to raise matters internally, it avoids the potential for external disclosure
  • It can reduce financial losses
  • Letting employees know that wrongdoing will not be tolerated can improve staff morale
  • Demonstrating a commitment to good governance is likely to enhance the employer’s reputation and increase investor confidence

Download an eBook on how to communicate your ethics hotline.

eBook 5 Steps to Communicate Your Ethics Reporting Program

This post was adapted from Christopher Bauer's, Weekly Ethics Thought: Five (or Six) Reminders of Why No One Calls Your Ethics Hotline


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.