I am not a whistleblower

15 July 2019

Tags: Speak Up

I have spoken up at work, but I am not a whistleblower. I’m just someone who couldn’t stand by without doing something. 

I raised a concern about a bullying senior manager. My colleagues were too afraid to; fearful of the consequences and painfully aware that it had been done before with seemingly no action taken. Instead they warned against it – "if you report it, your life will be hell” was the message.

I followed the recommended procedure – I raised my concern directly with the individual about how their behaviour was affecting me, as well as the team, and when that didn’t work, I raised it with another senior manager. But nothing seemed to happen.

I witnessed this manager continuing to insult my colleagues on the basis of their gender, ethnicity, sexuality. No one knew from one day to the next who would be singled out for a barrage of abuse, or worse, the silent treatment. People resigned or took time offsick. 

Still no one would speak up. No one wanted to be ‘the one’. They were scared of the potential retaliation, despite our organisation having a non-retaliation policy. 

When I finally called the Speak Up line, it felt intimidating and serious. But after I hung up, I felt an enormous sense of relief. I believed that all that misery, fear and frustration was coming to an end. My expectations were considerable and I had no one to share them with.

At first I felt exhilarated; it was empowering taking action. But as the days went past with nothing more than the original acknowledgement of my call, paranoia began to set in.

Once an investigation was underway, I was well supported by the senior leader who was managing the case, but felt isolated and alone within my team. Rumours began to fly about the manager being reported, and my colleagues speculated about who had reported them and what the outcome would be.

The IBE’s Good Practice Guide aims to help organisations put in place the strategies and processes which can encourage their employees to raise concerns. But that is only part of the emotional journey for the person who speaks up.

At the IBE, we’ve long been encouraging organisations to get to the heart of the experience of those who speak up. I know how vulnerable those who make the effort to raise a concern feel; the conflicting emotions and the confusion they experience about a situation and process they are unfamiliar with.

This has led us to develop The IBE Speak Up Toolkit.

It provides guidance on what to expect, and answers questions about the Speak Up process – from noticing a problem and having a conversation through to what happens when calling a Speak Up helpline or if a concern is investigated, and the follow up communications to make sure the process is working. At each stage of the journey, it also helps organisations ensure that they have the right resources, processes and procedures in place to help staff.

But more than that, it acknowledges the emotions which those who raise concerns may feel throughout the process – both positive and negative. For speaking up to become part of business as usual, it is crucial that organisations recognise the need to support those who do.


Rozlyn Spinks
Rozlyn Spinks

formerly Head of Advisory Services