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Are whistleblowers just troublemakers?

Makbool Javaid, Partner - Simons Muirhead & Burton

The traditional view of whistleblowing is that it is largely done by troublemakers and causes more work for HR. However, companies who take this view are missing out on a vital channel of communication which can be an early warning system of unresolved issues and problems which are brewing. Whistleblowing can shed light on hidden, sensitive issues and highlight potential areas which might escalate later on.

Companies would do well to not only encourage whistleblowing but to make sure that the process is fast and that they keep the reporter up to date with progress. Taking a long time to investigate discourages employees from reporting a problem again.

To help staff feel more comfortable reporting issues, HR teams must also work with business leaders to address retaliation. The current economic climate could exacerbate this concern, as workers may worry that blowing the whistle will increase their chances of being included in future cuts or hurt their career progression.

Having an established process that facilitates and encourages reporting will create a more supportive culture and strengthen businesses’ risk and compliance management strategies. However, evolving legislation may ultimately force organisations that are yet to realise the benefits of whistleblowing to change their approach. The EU Whistleblowing Directive, which protects whistleblowers in EU member states, will come into effect in 2021. This legislation is a step forward because it will require organisations of virtually every size and shape to implement meaningful whistleblowing procedures, and adopt protective measures for those who do speak up.

Although the UK will not have the same legislation post Brexit, promoting this culture of speaking up is still imperative and organisations that create programmes that support and actively embrace whistleblowing, will reap the benefits.

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