How to encourage employees to blow the whistle

A recent survey by on whistleblowing in Europe supports the idea that people are reluctant to speak up regarding wrongdoings. The results showed that 49% of respondents cite fear of retaliation as the primary reason against reporting. At the same time, only 15% said hesitation due to lack of awareness on how to file a complaint was a factor. When people do not feel comfortable reporting misconduct to the organisation itself, they are much more likely to seek external channels or not to report the misconduct at all. Both have negative implications for employers. Following are three ways to encourage employees to blow the whistle, some easier to implement than others:

  • Safe reporting channels;
  • Anonymous reporting;
  • Psychologically safe workplaces.

Safe reporting channels

The survey reports that 50% of respondents believe the existence of safe reporting channels is the most substantial factor that would encourage them to blow the whistle. The 2019 EU Whistleblowing Directive goes a long way to remedy people’s concerns by offering extensive protection to whistleblowers, as well as by making retaliation a punishable offence. However, the Directive only encompasses violations of EU law. Outsourcing a whistleblowing solution to an independent partner like Walor can thus demonstrate the organisation’s willingness to hold perpetrators accountable. Our screening service can be of use in this aspect, as the initial assessment of reports would depend on an impartial third party, rather than internal management.

Anonymous reporting

Still, according to the survey 32% of participants said they do not feel safe reporting at all and 38% said that anonymous reporting is a top-three factor for building employee trust. The problem is that the EU Directive leaves it up to states to decide how to legislate on this. As a result almost one fifth of European organisations do not accept or investigate anonymous reports, not to mention that such reports are more likely to be deemed unsubstantiated. In order to encourage employees to report misconduct organisations should thus also recognize the importance of anonymity. At Walor we believe this is the case, which is why our whistleblowing solution supports both confidential and anonymous reporting options.

Psychologically safe workplaces

Research by Cleary and Duke (2019) found that work environments can support biases like wilful blindness resulting in inaction even where extensive evidence of misconduct is available. This is exacerbated in places where there is a high focus on the power and influence of individuals. Company culture is a determining factor then, since a psychologically safe workplace is one that is conducive to interpersonally risky behaviour (e.g.: asking for help or speaking up). This can be achieved by reducing status gaps, learning from those who have spoken up in the past, and including people in discussions and decision-making processes.

To sum up, some of the ways in which organisations can encourage whistleblowing are providing access to safe reporting channels, anonymous reporting and psychologically safe workplaces. At Walor we provide such services in an all-in-one, confidential and secure whistleblowing solution. We are also committed to changing the negative image associated with whistleblowing and thus determined to provide you with the latest evidence-based information.

Further reading:

Cleary S & Duke M (2019) ‘Clinical Governance Breakdown: Australian Cases of Wilful Blindness and Whistleblowing.’ Nursing Ethics. 26(4), 1039–1049.

NAVEX Global (2022) Whistleblowing in Europe. NAVEXGlobal report.