Why The Whistleblower's Journey Is Important (And How To Improve It)
When an employee makes a whistleblowing report, it’s a harrowing experience. From deciding to make a report to actually submitting it, the whistleblower's journey is filled with stress. This uncertainty holds employees back from whistleblowing, which leaves risk and blinds spots in place.
As more organisations establish whistleblower policy programs, it’s crucial they think about the journey a whistleblower goes through. The goal is to change the mindset and encourage employees to have “courageous conversations”. By making the experience clearer and easier, reporting will increase and you will identify risk faster.
So how can organisations make a whistleblower’s journey better? We identified this as one of the 7 key questions you need to ask as you plan your whistleblowing program. In this article, we dive deeper into this topic and outline the steps you can take to encourage more reporting.
Map The Whistleblower’s Journey
For marketing teams, mapping a customer’s journey is crucial to understand how they interact with a brand and make a purchase. The whistleblower’s journey is no different and by mapping their journey, you will understand it better. Think from the whistleblower's perspective about each step they take as well as their mindset along the way. Making an anonymous report is not something one does every day. Evaluate how you can make each step simple, clear, and easy to understand.
A best practice is to develop an actual whistleblower's journey map. Document each step in the process and what information a whistleblower will be looking for to guide their journey. Also, think about what they might be thinking with each step and how stress could change their behaviour. Role-playing is a great activity at this stage; it can often unearth questions that you haven't yet asked.
Should a Whistleblower Report?
As you map the whistleblower's journey, the first junction they encounter is if they should report at all. Did they actually see what they think they saw? Is there uncertainty that it was misconduct? Did they misunderstand the conversation and it really wasn’t misconduct? And is there fear that they could damage someone's reputation if they are wrong? All these thoughts go through a whistleblower’s mind and can cause them to hold back from making a report.
As an organisation, you need to communicate to your employees that you want them to have “courageous conversations”. This includes asking them to report when they feel the values of the organisation are not being adhered to. Reinforce that “it’s okay” if a report is later found to be wrong as long as the report was genuine and not malicious. A great analogy is that a whistleblowing platform is like a smoke alarm. It sometimes might go off when there isn’t a fire, but you certainly want it there for when a fire happens.
What Should a Whistleblower Report?
Tied in with “should I report” is “what are the things I should report about”. Typically this creates the most confusion in a whistleblower program. Be very clear with your employees about the types of behaviour they should report. Provide examples and scenarios of what employees should report and also outline what they should not report through the whistleblower program. By giving them understandable examples and guidance, it becomes easier for them and you will receive more reports. Also, this approach ensures the reports you receive are meant for your whistleblowing program, which saves you time and resources.
Where Does A Whistleblower Make A Report?
Now you have mapped out the beginning of the journey, the next step is helping an employee understand where they can make a report. Organisations should use a whistleblower platform with different communication channels for report submission. It’s important to use channels employees are familiar with and feel comfortable using. While older employees might feel at ease calling a hotline, Gen Y and Z employees tend to be more comfortable with the web, mobile, and chat-based submissions. Providing choice will help you increase the chances that an employee makes a report.
It’s also important for employees to know where your whistleblower program lives. Make sure it is clear where they can access it, as well as how they can make a report. Too many companies bury their whistleblowing contact information on their internet/intranet. This makes it less visible to employees, which decreases the chance they will make a report.
How Does An Organisation Engage With A Whistleblower?
As an employee begins a whistleblower conversation with you, think about how you should engage with them. You want the whistleblower to feel protected and that their identity is safe. You also want to make them feel confident in providing you with additional information on their report.
Don’t leave this process to chance. Case managers will all have different styles of engagement, so you want to develop a standard process they use. While this process will focus on the investigation, don't forget to think about how and when they engage with the whistleblower. Develop the messages you want to get across and how you will keep them updated throughout the investigation. The submission of a report in many ways is the start of the conversation and you need to work to keep the conversation going.
Will My Employer Know I Am A Whistleblower?
To better identify risk, you need your employees reporting it. If they feel you will not protect their identity, they won't make anonymous reports. It's crucial to communicate that all submissions through your whistleblower program are anonymous. Don’t just say that “it’s anonymous”; you need to outline clear steps you are taking to ensure it is anonymous.
Part of this is introducing the platform you are using and how it protects anonymity. This can include how you won't have access to IP addresses and there is 2-way anonymous communication. If you are working with a 3rd party firm, it's great to reinforce this as it helps provide more evidence of the efforts you are taking to protect one's identity.
In some cases, a whistleblower will need to identify themselves at some point in the process. Help employees understand they don't need to do this in the initial report. Reinforce that it's always the employee's choice if they want to later disclose their identity.
Will My Employer Retaliate Against Me?
Once a whistleblower sees misconduct, whistleblower retaliation is the biggest thing that holds them back from reporting. Hollywood has done a good job of dramatising what happens to whistleblowers. Whether it's true or not, it plays a role in influencing a potential whistleblower and can often stop a whistleblower's journey before it gets started.
As an organisation, you want employees to have courageous conversations. To do this, you need to clearly communicate you will not retaliate against whistleblowers nor tolerate those who do. You need to hold the act of whistleblowing up high and show how it helps to uphold the standards and values of your organisation.
It's also important to outline what whistleblower protections you have. Many countries have existing whistleblowing legislation in place that provides whistleblower protection for employees. They also dictate the requirements for how organisations receive and manage whistleblower reports. If your organisation is under local legislation, communicate this and any additional protection measures you are taking.
What Happens After I Submit My Whistleblower Report?
The worst thing is to ignore a whistleblower. Imagine going through a stressful process, putting time into submitting a report, and then be not listened to. Start by acknowledging a whistleblower's report and let them know you have received it. Use their submission to start the conversation and show them you are taking their report seriously. Once the investigation is complete, go back to the whistleblower and share what results you can. It's important to have this conversation as a person, dropping the legal language, and let them know there is a human on the other side of the anonymous conversation.
A great best practice is to ensure the workflow your case managers use has mandatory steps for updating a whistleblower. Workflows tend to focus on the investigation; ensure they also focus on the whistleblower's journey.
Understanding the experience a whistleblower goes through is key to planning a high performing whistleblower program. Make sure you look at each step through the eyes of the whistleblower. This will help you empathise with their experience and help you design a better program. Your ultimate goal is to identify and address risk. The best way to do this is for your employees to report it, but it needs to be an easy process for these reports to happen.