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How can you encourage employees to whistleblow internally and report issues?

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In the business world, "internal whistleblowing" refers to an employee reporting his or her colleague for unethical behavior. The behavior in question may be harassment, theft, negligence, or some other form of misconduct, but the ultimate impact is the same: damage to your business and your company's reputation.

If you run a business today, adopting a whistleblowing culture could be one of the best ways to protect your company and promote employee satisfaction. Today, let's talk about the importance of whistleblowing and how you can encourage this behavior in your company.

Why whistleblowing is important

First and foremost, whistleblowing makes good business sense. According to a 2017 report by CNBC, workplace crime costs companies about $50 billion annually, a figure that could be lowered if employees spoke up about what they see.

And ironically, a whistleblowing culture can actually prevent workplace crime from occurring in the first place. When employees know that their colleagues might report their misdeeds, they are less likely to take the risk of committing them. In this way, encouraging whistleblowing may be the best way to stop unethical behavior.

Tips for encouraging whistleblowing.

If you create a work environment where ethical behavior is valued and the need for the whistleblower is recognized, your company is sure to become more compliant. Especially if you implement a compliance monitoring system. But how can you encourage whistleblowing? Here are a few tips:

Cultivate a whistleblowing culture
Every business owner knows that leading a company starts at the top. If you want to cultivate a culture that values ethics and recognizes the importance of whistleblowing, you need to model this behavior in your company. Make sure employees can voice their concerns. Make sure senior leaders understand that ethics is a priority - and make sure they agree.

Establish clear reporting procedures
Many companies now have "whistleblowing policies" - set rules and regulations for employees who want to raise concerns about someone or something in the company. These policies are critical to creating a whistleblowing culture in your company, as they clarify the value of whistleblowing and show employees how important it is.

But of course, it's not enough to simply create these policies to promote whistleblowing in your company; you also need to make sure these policies are easy to understand and easy to find. Post signs throughout the office that list the whistleblowing procedure. Make sure everyone can reach your reporting hotline phone number. This way, the reporting policy will stick in the minds of most employees, which will help you uncover misconduct even faster.

Train your staff appropriately
Even if your employees know that the company has policies in place for reporting misconduct, this may not be enough to establish a culture of whistleblowing. You also need to provide your employees with appropriate training on when and how to report misconduct.

Whistleblowing training should cover four key topics: what behaviors constitute misconduct (using clear and specific examples to avoid confusion), how employees can raise their concerns, how the company will protect the whistleblower, and how the company will handle the report. Covering this information during employee training will ensure that everyone knows what to do if they witness misconduct - and that they know what is expected of them.

Prevent retaliation
In 2018, the U.S. Ethics and Compliance Institute surveyed workers on how they feel about ethics in their workplace. While there were some promising statistics (like the fact that only 47% of workers reported witnessing misconduct, down from 57% four years earlier), one statistic was particularly troubling: whistleblower retaliation had doubled from the previous survey, reaching a frightening 44%.

If you want your employees to come forward when they witness wrongdoing, they need to know that they won't face consequences for speaking out. You can give them this assurance by fostering a culture of whistleblowing, but also by allowing them to report anonymously (for example, by setting up an anonymous ethics hotline). That little bit of privacy can make a big difference to the whistleblower who wants to do the right thing but fears for his or her job.

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