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World Whistleblowers Day

World Whistleblowers Day

A day aimed at raising public awareness about the important role played by whistleblowers in our society. We often hear of the costs that whistleblowers avert by their disclosures but what about those that employers can avert by building organisational cultures that encourage speaking up?  

These costs are a lot more tricky to quantify, but no less important. Employers need to look beyond the costs at the employee relationship level (high and/or disruptive staff turnover, litigation and settlement costs, management time handling grievances) and see the wider costs of ineffective internal reporting channels (regulatory concerns, negative press, long term brand damage or boycotts and investor sensitivities).

In 2015, a tweet from journalist Jennifer Senior said “at some pt, all the women who’ve been afraid to speak out abt Harvey Weinstein are gonna have to hold hands and jump”. They jumped. Earlier this month, over a 100 current and former Brewdog staff tweeted an open letter calling out Brewdog’s use of social media to publicise a strong employee culture (e.g. by advertising that staff were entitled to “Pawternity” puppy leave policies that allegedly were not available) and instead describing a “culture of fear”. Employees will follow employers onto social media to advertise their brands (both the good and the bad). So, what’s driving this?

Many things. There’s a certain power found in employee groups placing these issues in the court of public opinion. They don’t have to stand alone against the employer potentially exposing themselves to great personal scrutiny. Views can be aired to, and validated by, a social media community far quicker than any feedback from an internal, trade union or Tribunal process. The employees immediately protect themselves against the risk of being dismissed for raising their concerns (as we can bet that any dismissal would be aired on social media leading to further employer backlash).

No social media policy can protect employers from the growing trend of employees to publicise HR communications (as we saw last year when staff at a Scottish hotel publicised a letter from their employer terminating them and removing them from their accommodation, later described by the employer as an “administrative error”). If the horse has bolted, these policies can at best be relied upon to chuck a disciplinary process into an already inflammatory mix. So what should employers do?

This comes down to culture. It’s not just about having policies around whistleblowing, social media, culture and bullying but making sure that these are visibly modelled in your leaders. Whilst not every employer will be offering a week’s paid leave to manage staff burnout á la Bumble’s CEO Whitney Wolf Herd, broader employee engagement initiatives can help build vital trust with employees. Employee communications and investigation outcome letters need to not only acknowledge employee concerns, but also meet the Daily Mail test. Manager and HR training should not just address the process elements, but also focus on the subtleties of handling staff concerns and the need for some solid EQ when doing so. Employers who want to mitigate the wider cost risks associated with employee disengagement should ensure that the sentiment of World Whistleblowers Day is carried in their organisation for more than one day.

If you need more information about implementing whistleblowing frameworks in your organisation, or the Littler | Whistle Protect tool that allows employees to report their concerns, please contact Alison Sneddon.