Blog: Making a Report - best practice for organisations

Guest Blog from Meghan Van Portfliet, Queen's University Belfast

In previous weeks, various authors have explored what sorts of wrongdoing employees observe, and how managers can encourage a culture where employees feel safe to report. In this blog, I draw on academic research into effective speak up arrangements to highlight what organisations can do to make sure they have a process in place that is suitable for handling various types of concerns, and a process that employees can trust. 

Researchers Marianna Fotaki from Warwick Business School, Wim Vandekerckhove from the University of Greenwich, and Kate Kenny from Queen's University Belfast/NUI Galway have recently explored how a range of organisations handle Speak Up arrangements. They have come up with recommendations to help turn a report of wrongdoing into corrective action on the part of the organisation  in a report they put out in conjunction with the ACCA. The research looked at a range of businesses and sectors, and identified best practices that can help ensure that speak up arrangements actually work, rather than just being a process on paper. Some of the key points are from the research are: 

1.Offer a variety of channels. 
Employees are not all the same. Different people will have different preferences on how to communicate, and an effective Speak Up channel accommodates these preferences by offering a variety of ways to report. For example, organisations can offer a question channel, an externally operated hotline, and designate internal key persons or ombudspersons as channels through which to report. Each channel offers a different degree of independence and anonymity, which suits a wider range of employees. 

2.Involve more than one function. 
Whistleblowing concerns are often complex and can be tied up with grievances, or issues that relate to various departments. The NHS trust that was studied ensured that complex issues were all handled well by including multiple functions. While the HR and the board focused mainly on employment and patient safety issues, the Trust Local Counter Fraud Specialist and the Finance Department responded to concerns about fraud, bribery and corruption. This ensured that all issues that come through the speak-up channel can be handled without the employee having to make a second report to another department. 

3.Be responsive. 
If organisations want their employees to report to them, they not only need to respond, but they need to be perceived as responding. Research shows that even when organisations act on information that is given to them, if this is not communicated to the disclosing employee, trust is eroded. 

4.Be aware of barriers to responsiveness.
Sometimes, there are barriers not to acting on concerns, but to ensuring that the action is communicated to the discloser. For example, if acting on the concern results in the disciplining of an employee, it may not be appropriate, or even legal, for the organisation to publicise that widely. Additionally, it can be particularly difficult to respond if the concerns are reported anonymously. Being aware of the barriers to responsiveness facilitates the next best practice. 

5.Involve third parties where possible. 
Unions and other third parties can be beneficial to speak-up arrangements as they ensure there is a degree of independence and also often provide extra support for the discloser. Having third parties involved results in more trust in the Speak Up arrangements and signals that the concern is being handled. 

6.Record all speak up events
Not all disclosures will lead to investigations, and some are therefore at risk of not being recorded. However, having a record of all disclosures, however small, can be useful in identifying trends and helping the organisation decide if, for example, a new channel for speaking up would be more effective. 

Reporting aggregated speak up data in annual reports not only builds trust with employees, but also with investors and external stakeholders. While some organisations may fear that publicising Speak Up data may have the opposite effect, research shows that the transparency is seen as a positive attribute. 

8.Provide access in different languages
In today’s globalised world, employees come from diverse backgrounds and country contexts. Having the Speak Up process available in multiple languages makes is accessible to a wider range of employees, and builds trust that the concern can be handled properly. 

These recommendations represent best practices and will help ensure that the process of speaking up is smooth for both employees and organisations. To find out more, please visit www.whistleblowingimpact.org 

Research referenced: 
Public Concern at Work/University of Greenwich (2013). ‘Whistleblowing: The Inside Story’
Transparency International Ireland (2017) ‘Speak Up Report 2017’. 

Another useful resource is IBE's Good Practice Guide: Encouraging a Speak Up Culture

Posted: 18/07/2019

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