Summer of Speak Up – one year on

31 July 2020

Tags: Speak Up, Supportive Environment

Read the blog by Linn Byberg, IBE's Engagement Officer.

It’s been a year since we launched the IBE Speak Up Toolkit with our #SummerOfSpeakUp campaign. The toolkit has had good traction with over 4,000 uses, but a lot has changed since we launched last year.

The global coronavirus pandemic has had a number of consequences, one of which is the impact on the number of people speaking up through company speak up arrangements. Conversations across our Supporter network reveal that in general, reporting rates seem to be down, but some have experienced large increases, and all have seen a shift in the categories of reports that do continue to come in.

Falling reporting numbers could be a consequence of two things. First, it could be because of falling misconduct, and with large swathes of the UK workforce furloughed for many months, this could well be the case. It might also be a result of the move for many office-based workers to working from home, which could help explain a fall in the number of interpersonal concerns raised. However, it is too soon to say anything definitive on this yet. It will however be a key metric that we will look at when we conduct our Ethics at Work research again next year.

Another reason that the numbers could be falling is a decrease in willingness to speak up. While this could be due to a heightened fear among employees of losing their job in these uncertain times, this is a much more concerning prospect for business. From our conversations with our Supporter network, the commitment to Speak Up has certainly not diminished, with many increasing their communications and continuing to promote their arrangements. Again, this is something that we are keeping an eye on as the risk is that the resilience workforces have shown during the pandemic could mean that some issues are not being raised in the way they would usually be.

The other big change we have seen over the past year is the ramping up of preparations for the implementation of the EU Whistleblowing Directive. While this Directive was adopted by the European Council in October 2019, member states have until December 2021 to implement the Directive into national law. 

Whether or not the UK implements this EU Directive is a secondary matter as the Directive itself is based on best practices and secures increased protection from retaliation for whistleblowers and interestingly, reverses the burden of proof with regard to potential discrimination suffered by reporters. The Directive can therefore effectively be used as a gap analysis tool to understand how internal Speak Up practices measure up to international good practice.

Its scope is also wide as it requires any private sector company or public sector body with 50 employees or more to establish formal reporting channels for employees and others to express concerns. This could be a game-changer for such smaller organisations, many of whom may not currently have such arrangements in place.

Other noteworthy aspects of the Directive include:

  • The broadening of the definition of who can raise a concern, what the concern can be about and how it can be raised
  • The three-tiered reporting approach offered including internal reporting, external reporting through whistleblowing hotlines, and going public by speaking to the media
  • The requirement for employers to confirm receipt of the Speak Up to the reporter within seven days, and to respond and provide feedback within three months.

However, implementation of the best practices from the Directive should not be consigned to a compliance tick-box exercise. Instead, investment of time and energy into creating a Speak Up culture will be beneficial for all involved. Speaking up is an idea that it’s hard to disagree with, but the reality and the experience of those who do speak up highlight a number of challenges.

The IBE’s 2018 UK Ethics at Work survey found that the main reasons why employees choose not to speak up are a fear that it may jeopardise their job (or otherwise cause them to be retaliated against) and because they feel that no corrective action will be taken as a result of them speaking up. In order to lessen these common fears among employees, there are a number of questions senior management and others responsible for Speak Up can ask themselves to get a better picture of what speaking up is like within their own organisation. 

  • Does my company have a dedicated Speak Up policy? 
  • Do we have a non-retaliation policy protecting those who Speak Up, and do we have a way of monitoring this? 
  • Do we have a process in place to follow-up with reporters? 
  • Do we track how long, on average, we take to close our cases? 
  • What percentage of our reporters choose to remain anonymous, and what does this figure tell us? 
  • What does our employee survey data reveal about trust in, and the general sentiment towards, our Speak Up arrangements?

For those responsible for implementing Speak Up arrangements, our Good Practice Guide Encouraging a Speak Up Culture offers practical guidance on the elements that commonly feature in an effective Speak Up policy, how to embed this policy, and how selected IBE supporters manage their own programmes – from the point a concern is raised through to the monitoring of retaliation after the investigation has closed.

For those who want to raise a concern, but have questions about what to do or what might happen, the IBE Speak Up Toolkit helps demystify the entire process – from noticing a problem and having a conversation through to what to expect when calling a Speak Up helpline or having a concern investigated. It provides bite-sized guidance to over 150 Speak Up FAQs, all based on how you feel about a particular question. It also suggests guidance and support you can seek in your own organisation.

Encouraging a Speak Up culture in these ways will help create a proactive approach. If organisations can adopt the necessary measures to alleviate common concerns expressed by employees, they will be well on their way to implementing the recommendations suggested by the EU Whistleblowing Directive and fostering a supportive Speak Up culture.

We are running a masterclass on Speak Up in early October, and you can find more information about this workshop here.

If there’s anything we can do to help you on your journey, we’d be delighted to hear from you.


Linn Byberg
Linn Byberg

Senior Engagement Officer

As the Senior Engagement Officer, Linn acts as a single point of contact for the IBE's existing supporters and potential supporters. She collaborates with the wider team on the planning and delivery of engagement activities, and is also secretary to the IBE’s Networks (BEN, ProfBEN, USG & DPG). 

Linn joined the IBE in August 2018 as Researcher. In this role, she assisted the Research Hub with the writing up of publications, blogs, newsletters as well as other written output specific to the IBE. Her other responsibilities included conducting advisory work on a range of business ethics topics, particularly those related to organisations’ codes of ethics. 

Before joining the IBE, Linn completed her master's degree in Comparative Politics from the University of Bergen. She also holds a master's degree in Politics and Government in the European Union from the London School of Economics & Political Science and a bachelor's degree in International Politics from King's College London. She has several years’ experience working as a freelance researcher and translator.

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all – Helen Keller

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