#PandemicAndBeyond - Speak up and listen up. Ethics at the front line

07 October 2020

Tags: Speak Up, Pandemic and Beyond, Supportive Environment

In a guest blog for the National Guardian's Office, Dr Ian Peters discusses the importance of speaking up, and listening up.

Ethics were at the heart of the principles that first established the NHS as a universal healthcare system, free at the point of delivery and based on clinical need. Those principles have shaped its development over 70 years and been a vital foundation to the individual and collective response to the Covid crisis.

The last seven months have brought extraordinary, unprecedented challenges to health and social care. The impact falling on some of the most vulnerable members of society. We have all been moved by incredible stories of selfless behaviour by front line heroes putting humanity at the heart of everything they do.

But an essential element in an organisation driven by strong ethical values is to ensure that colleagues feel free to speak up when they see things that are not going well, and that they feel secure and confident that they will not face retaliation in doing so.

Building lasting confidence in speak up requires much more than encouraging people to raise their hands. Our research at the Institute of Business Ethics shows that many employees are still reluctant to raise issues because they fear that doing so might have consequences for their job and they think nothing will be done about it anyway. Anyone speaking up needs to be confident that they will be listened to, that their concerns will be taken seriously and that their concerns will be properly investigated and actioned.

So why should we worry about speak up when there’s so much else to concern us?

The response to Covid has required incredible flexibility but made demands on many individuals at the front line that are not sustainable. The constant change and innovation that has been needed demands shortcuts and compromises, adds to time pressure, amplifies fatigue and increases the risk of mistakes. Leaders who are tired and busy have less time to listen and even less time to follow up and feedback. Horizons and goals become very short term; just getting through the demands of the day feels like an achievement.

Yet real-time learnings are incredibly valuable in times of challenge and change. In times of crisis and uncertainty, speak up plays a vital role in identifying the pressure points and where things may be starting to go wrong.  Early warnings of problems allow issues to be dealt with quickly and effectively, before there is a serious impact.

The best leaders will be actively listening, encouraging their teams to speak up, ensuring that concerns that are raised are properly followed through to resolution, and that the speak up loop is closed out by communicating the outcomes. Speak up - and listen up - are core to an open, inclusive culture and the high levels of trust that are needed to get through a crisis. The role of the network of Freedom to Speak Up Guardians is a vital part of that culture, and that role has never been more important.


Dr Ian Peters MBE
Dr Ian Peters MBE


As Director of the Institute, Ian is responsible for implementing strategy, leading the team and ensuring that the Institute meets its charitable aims of raising awareness and spreading best practice in the field of business ethics.

Ian’s career has spanned business policy, government relations and corporate communications.  He has extensive experience of working at the highest levels with business, government, regulators and the professions.

After studying for a degree in geography at Lancaster University and taking his PhD at Southampton (on the drivers of small business growth) Ian joined the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) as a small business policy specialist.  In 1989 he moved to international public relations firm Burson-Marsteller where he worked for a number of major corporate clients.  Following a second stint at the CBI Ian became Deputy Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce in 1996 where he led the policy, research and communications functions.  From 2001 to 2008 he was Director of External Affairs and Marketing at the Engineering Employers Federation (EEF) and in 2009 joined the Chartered Institute of Internal Auditors as Chief Executive, a post he held until December 2019.

Ian has held a number of non-executive and public appointments including Chair of the Independent Monitoring Panel of the UK Chartered Banker Professional Standards Board, member of the UK government’s Regulatory Policy Committee and Better Regulation Task Force, and member of the Court of the University of Lancaster.

In 2015 Ian was awarded an MBE for services to regulatory reform.

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