If you’ve spotted something wrong in your workplace, then you might be tempted to raise the alarm about it. This is a practice called ‘whistleblowing’, and it’s usually employed at considerable personal risk to the individual who’s actually blowing the whistle. After all, you’re going against your own employer, and in many cases you might be going against colleagues with whom you’ve been working for years.
By definition, whistle-blowers report on harms that affect the wider public, rather than just the organisation itself. This distinguishes them from workers who’ve merely identified an area of weakness inside the business.
For this reason, whistle-blowers enjoy a few legal protections designed to encourage them to come forward, even if they know that they’re rocking the boat when they do so.
The issue of whistleblowing is often framed as one where a single plucky worker bravely defies the organisation for whom they’re working. But the truth is that whistle-blowers aren’t a hindrance to employers: they’re a boon. They help to identify areas of institutional weakness that might otherwise have gone unaddressed. In this sense, they act a little bit like antibodies which help your organisation to deal with harmful practices and agents.
A whistle-blower might cause reputational damage to your business. But this reputational damage is nothing against that which might occur should it emerge that your business knew about the problem and didn’t take any steps to address it – or even stood in the way of change happening.
How can I implement a whistleblowing culture?
If you’re going to encourage workers to come forward with their complaints, then you’ll need to set out a clear and coherent policy for whistle-blowers, which outlines exactly the protections you’re offering. This way, the whistle will be blown at the earliest possible stage.
If you have a whistle-blowing policy set out in writing, then employees will recognise that it is an accepted part of the way that you do things. If you compose this document in consultation with the wider workforce, then you’ll not only benefit from their insights, but you’ll get them thinking about whistleblowing in general. At this stage, it’s worth involving external employment law solicitors, who’ll be able to give you a disinterested perspective on how effective your proposed measures are.
You might also provide guidance and reminders through regular staff training, posters and points raised at meetings. If you can implant whistleblowing in the wider consciousness of your workforce, then it might quickly harden into a cultural practice.