6 tips to optimize your whistleblower program

6 tips to optimize your whistleblower program

August 23, 2022

Most people think that whistleblowers mainly exist within huge corporations or government agencies. The fact is, however, that the majority of all whistleblower cases are never reported in the media as they are resolved internally.

As more and more companies and organizations implement whistleblower programs, we want to share six tips to optimize your whistleblower program, whether you already have one or not. Below you will find six useful tips to optimize your whistleblower program.

1. Plan long-term

Instead of constantly putting out fires, it is better to plan long-term. This is something that is true for many things, not least when it comes to whistleblowing. Spend enough time to ensure that the entire flow from report to investigation and conclusion works as expected.

It is also a good idea to ensure that functionality that is not needed at the moment but that may be needed in the future can be implemented without major difficulties or significantly increased costs, for example, for groups whose companies will exceed 250 employees within a few years.

The same applies if you, as an organization, are currently active only in one country but plan to expand to several countries in the future. Although the EU whistleblowing directive sets a basic level, some countries in Europe may choose to adopt slightly different rules. For this reason, it is a good idea to ensure that it is possible to expand and change relevant functions to suit the needs of different countries.

Also read: Why is whistleblowing so important?

2. Be open to feedback

When implementing a whistleblower program, it is important to be open to feedback. It is easy to think that you have covered all possible scenarios before launch, but it can look very different in practice.

We, therefore, recommend that you are open to feedback and use thoughts from your own employees to make whistleblowing as good as possible within the organization. For example:

  • Do they think the feedback is lacking? Implement more regular feedback times than the legal requirement.
  • Do employees say it's "too complicated" to report something? Review the process to see if anything can be done differently. Consider changing the structure or reporting tool

These are common types of feedback to encounter after implementing whistleblowing within the organization. With the help of feedback, it becomes much easier to detect any shortcomings and cover up possible gaps in the whistleblower policy, as well as in reporting, feedback, and investigation.

3. Teach all employees how to spot problems

Educate your staff on the red flags that can help detect fraud. Changes in lifestyle, signs of drug abuse, gambling, “gifts” from suppliers, or a refusal to take vacations are all subtle indicators that something may be wrong. Team members should be trained in situations that could herald disaster, and the earlier a fraud is detected, the less damage to the company – both financially and reputationally.

Because all employees are trained in spotting problems, there is a greater chance of stopping any problems before they escalate. This does not mean that the organization will be protected from all corruption, but it reduces the risk of it happening.

4. Make sure there are plenty of clear protections against retaliation

There is no point in having a whistleblower program if retaliation is tolerated in any way. These include social exclusion, demotions, or harassment. It is critical that the organization implements a zero-tolerance policy for retaliation and actively works to enforce it.

If an employee has to worry about retaliation or retaliation, the risk that they will dare to report something that they see a manager or other person in a senior role doing is reduced. It is therefore important to implement strong protections against retaliation and to make this known to employees. Anonymity can be extra reassuring for employees who don't feel completely comfortable with reporting.

Also read: Checklist for a good whistleblower solution

5. Be clear about the organization's values ​​and ethical rules

Reiterate your ideals and ethics. By implementing an ethics and compliance program, you convey to your staff that you value integrity, honesty, and teamwork. According to research, ethical companies are more successful than other companies, not least in terms of profitability. You can find tips for how to implement ethics training in the study 'Key features of an effective ethics training program'.

It can be good to regularly communicate the organization's values ​​with the employees to remind them of what applies and reinforce the values. Common methods are to hold exercises in groups, to send out short training courses via email where the employees then have to answer a quiz or to simply hand out brochures with information. Some organizations choose to develop values ​​together with the employees. The exact method is not the most important thing, what matters is that values ​​and ethical rules are communicated and repeated.

Also read: Why internal whistleblowing is superior

6. Communicate openly about whistleblowing

The chance that a person dares to blow the whistle depends largely on the attitude of the company. For example, if all managers sigh loudly and talk about whistle-blowing in a negative way and that it is an "unnecessary requirement," it can have negative consequences on the employees' perception of whistle-blowing.

Although some stressed managers consider the whistleblower directive and requirements for the implementation of whistleblower programs to be unnecessary, often because "We already have such an open culture."  Of course, it is understandable that many do not need more on their agenda, but if the attitude that whistleblowing is unnecessary is picked up by the employees, it can significantly damage your whistleblower program. As little as a sigh at the launch can be noted by the employees.

But you may feel uncomfortable if you actually blow the whistle, or be afraid that you won't be taken seriously. It is therefore important to talk as much as possible about whistle-blowing in a positive way and to highlight the benefits of whistle-blowing and the impact it can have on the entire organization and the health of all employees.

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