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How Hold Music Kills the Whistleblower Hotline Experience

How Hold Music Kills the Whistleblower Hotline Experience

How fast should whistleblower hotline calls be answered and should callers ever be put on hold?

Take a moment to imagine the last time you needed to make a call to an 800 number for something urgent, only to be put on hold once you were able to navigate your way through the labyrinth of voice prompts and instructions.

You "press 1 if you are calling to cancel your upcoming trip" or "press 5 to speak to the fraud department". Only to be forced to listen to light jazz music once you've made it through. Frustrating right?

Now imagine you have an employee who's wondering 'how do I report whistleblowing?' And the employee's emotional state is scattered because they saw something in the workplace they know is wrong. Something that their colleague friend took part in during workplace hours.

And now the employee wants to file an anonymous whistleblower report. The employee is really worried about making this complaint because he or she does not want to be retaliated against, nor do they want to lose the friendship of their colleague.

But they know calling in to report the concern is the right thing to do. After all, the organization has a whistleblower policy that clearly states to use the whistleblower reporting hotline to report infractions against the code of ethics.

When the employee dials the 800 number they're put on hold and subject to the same light jazz hold music that is common with every 800 number.

What happens when an employee calls the ethics hotline?

When employees call into an ethics reporting hotline only to be put on hold, the more likely they are to abandon their call and not report anything at all. If this is a regular occurrence, the organization is likely missing out on obtaining valuable information that if not stopped, could cause a lot of damage.

A whistleblower hotline, or ethics hotline, is the one place a caller should never be put on hold.

Ethics hotlines are a great tool to gain a deeper insight into an organization’s culture. It's one thing to know that a certain type of wrongdoing is taking place. But why is it happening in the first place.

Chances are there’s a deeper issue or concern that is spreading through the employee population that could be dragging the morale down. But if callers are subject to "The Waiting Room" play list when they call in, they may hang up and the organization loses valuable information.

Here's one question to ask about an ethics hotline

If you're considering outsourcing your ethics hotline program, a good question to ask the vendor is how do they ensure hotline calls are answered promptly and that the caller isn’t put on hold? The caller wait time is important because the longer a caller is waiting to speak to a live agent, the greater the likelihood they will abandon the call altogether.

When a caller has to wait to speak to an agent, this could tell the caller that their time isn’t important. Or that their concern isn’t important enough to voice. If the caller is given the opportunity to leave, then this could mean valuable information is lost to the organization; information that provides valuable insight into the workplace and the inner culture.

If a caller were to leave because they were waiting too long for an agent, this could put a strain on the ethics and compliance program. Why? Because the longer unethical misconduct is not investigated, the greater the damage to the company's revenue, reputation, and morale.


When a caller is in an elevated emotional state when they call in to report an ethics violation, the very act of speaking to a live agent immediately gives the caller an instant human connection. That simple connection can be powerful enough that when a caller knows there is someone on the other end of the line who's empathetic to their feelings and takes the time to comfort them, they will stay on the line and report their concern.

A vendor should have a vested interest in the quality of their call center and should be able to relay statistics on their average speed of answer.

Go ahead and ask a vendor you're speaking with what their call center average speed of answer is.

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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.