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HR teams should promote whistleblowing policies; research suggests

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Low awareness and trust of processes in the majority of businesses

Results from a new survey have highlighted that a majority of HR professionals (57%) in the private and public sectors believe their employees are actively encouraged to speak up about wrongdoing. A further 36% said that employees know they can report wrongdoing.

In contrast, the survey findings also suggest that a large proportion of employees are unaware of what to do if they witness or discover wrongdoing in the workplace.

The findings showed that there appears to be a low investment in the training and promotion of whistleblowing processes and policies, even when such processes and policies exist.

The whistleblowing survey, commissioned by UK-based Safecall, found that the majority of respondents – some 83% – have a whistleblowing policy in place.

There is no legal requirement for an organisation to have a whistleblowing policy; however, under the Corporate Governance Code, if a listed company does not have one, senior management must be able to explain why they don’t.

The survey revealed that HR managers are overwhelmingly aware of the EU Whistleblowing Directive. However, just over 20% admitted that they were unaware of the Directive and its possible impact on their business.

These findings suggest that nearly two years of awareness activity have largely worked. However, the findings revealed that 43.5% of organisations have not bought into or are completely unaware of the benefits of actively promoting whistleblowing.

Most respondents said whistleblowing training is not mandatory in their workplace. In addition, over 61% of organisations do not do any promotion and education within the workforce.

Where companies provide internal whistleblowing services, only 58% of their investigators have been formally trained, indicating that the balance of investigators (42%) are conducted by employees who have either learned through experience, are self-taught, or have no experience at all.

The risks of this lack of training may be huge for an organisation. The main reason organizations lose tribunals is failing to follow legislative and tribunal processes.

Joanna Lewis, MD at Safecall, commented: “Awareness and adoption of whistleblowing processes and policies seem fairly high, which is great to see. However, it’s when you start delving into the mechanics and trust of such processes that we see some worrying trends.

 “There are organisations that have put whistleblowing reporting systems in place but are not bought into actively encouraging reports. A minority of organisations – even if they do have whistleblowing reporting channels in place – see whistleblowing as a tick-box exercise with no benefits to the revenue, morale or profit of the organisation.”

 “While progress is being made, more needs to be done to persuade some HR management teams that whistleblowing has multiple lasting benefits to both themselves and their organisation.”

 “If there is little or no training on what whistleblowing is about, then employees will revert to their ingrained upbringing, which tends to result in not informing on colleagues. Wrongdoing will go unreported and potentially continue.”

 “The fact that 42.6% of respondents felt employees ‘generally feel safe’ in reporting concerns of wrongdoing is actually pretty damning. It doesn’t sound overly confident.”

 “One of the hardest things any employee can do is to become a whistleblower – only a relatively small proportion will ever do so. Any hint that an employee will suffer reprisals if they report wrongdoing will actively reduce the possibility of uncovering problems in an organisation.

 “These survey findings highlight a real opportunity for companies and organisations to review their whistleblowing processes, promote better to their employees and ensure there are robust independent whistleblower hotlines and reporting procedures.”

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