Reflection three: Who “blows the whistle?”

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The answer is: a whistle-blower. Disgusting, would say some of you, especially my readers who come from the post-soviet space! Great, I say, keeping in mind my corporate experience.

Importance of the internal communication for a business became fully understandable to me only during my work for a transnational company.

Before that I was a part of the “disgusting” camp, thinking that “whistleblowing” is a terrible idea.

Big companies, having a bunch of employees, of different nationalities, operating worldwide, definitely have to implement some best practices with an emphasis on cross-cultural differences. And here they usually end up by implementing  Standards of Business Conduct in order to set high standards of business integrity for its employees worldwide. “Titans” can’t afford to make mistakes which would negatively influence the corporate image and consequently drop the price of their stocks on the stock exchange market. That is why Standards of Business Conduct, which usually include some tools of internal communication, play a key role in the corpotrate strategy.

Among confidentiality and information security, human rights and conflict of interest Standards of Business Conduct would include whistleblowing concept and procedure. It has a strong connection with company’s internal communication. Still whistleblowing is probably the most controversial tool of internal communication. On the one hand, it is a tool of internal communication allowing any employee to raise concerns regarding an illegal or unethical practice in the workplace, which can include but not limited to: criminal acts, including theft, fraud, bribery and corruption; harassment in the workplace; other human rights abuses; accounting malpractice; or falsifying documents. On the other hand, people internally do not like whistleblowing, or even consider it unethical, because when someone “blows the whistle,” it could be actually only an opinion of this person. I think that in general people do not like “whistleblowers.”

As I’ve mentioned, I had the same internal struggle myself at the time when this procedure was discussed and drafted in my company. Is whistleblowing good or bad? Ethical or unethical? Moral or immoral? And what if it becomes a tool of war between employees? The conclusions I came to are the following:

  1. Whistleblowing aiming to end an unethical/illegal behavior is ethical, because people have a moral obligation to prevent serious harm to others if they can.
  2. Whistleblowing works if people are honest. Therefore, the organization has to promote honesty, transparent structures, and effective, clear communication. This will also help to change the perception of whistleblowers by other colleagues.
  3. In general, people are afraid to speak up. The company has to ensure confidentiality for whistleblowers by implementing a clear procedure of whistleblowing, including designated officers who can receive the concerns or by giving freedom to choose another person, such as their line manager or HR manager, in case the whistleblower trusts such a person more.
  4. Fear of being mistaken can often stops employees from taking action. The company has to adopt a no reprisals policy, which means the whistleblower will not suffer any form of reprisal for raising a concern about actual or suspected wrongdoing, even if he or she is mistaken.
  5. Employees have to be involved in the internal communications of the company by giving feedback, participating in briefings, providing news for the internal bulletin, giving presentations, etc. In such case they will feel more comfortable raising their concerns.

I understand it’s an opinion, and you might have a different one. Also, I know that whistleblowing may have negative aspects, and I’ve read about several cases which show the “ugly” face of whistleblowing. I can imagine, however, perhaps people had the similar debates about the presumption of innocence “helping” criminals to escape justice or the abolition of the death penalty encouraging serious crimes. There are always pros and cons, but hopefully the promotion of an open and honest culture would drastically reduce, if not eliminate, false whistleblowing.

My personal belief is that if whistleblowing is incorporated as a natural part of the internal corporate communications system, it can be transformed into an extremely valuable aid in creating positive work environment, allowing employees to focus on the success of the organization and its members. What do you think? Just take a moment and reflect on this topic.

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