Whistleblowing policies undermined by poor training

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Sep 28 2023 by Management-Issues Print This Article

For all the talk about protecting whistleblowers and encouraging a ‘speak up’ culture, new research has found a disturbing lack of awareness and training within many organisations around how to deal with whistleblowing matters.

A survey of almost 300 companies – the majority in the UK – by whistleblowing hotline provider Safecall, found that almost nine out of 10 respondents (88%) have a whistleblowing policy in place. While there is no legal requirement for a whistleblowing policy under the UK’s Corporate Governance Code, the absence of such a policy leaves management vulnerable to corporate liability charges should wrongdoing be suggested.

More than half (53%) of the organisations surveyed do not provide continuous whistleblowing training, while 18% neglect it entirely, risking severe repercussions for non-compliance with legislative and tribunal processes. Moreover, while the overwhelming majority (94%) also agreed that training is absolutely necessary for workplace investigators, only half (49%) could confidently say their investigators had received formal training.

The risks for organisations conducting investigations using employees with no formal whistleblowing investigations training are severe. The greatest element of risk lies in failing to follow legislative and tribunal process, and this is a recurring reason for organisations losing tribunals.

“What is notable from this survey is that, while the systems to enable speaking up are improving and becoming more robust, much more can be done to ensure people are prepared when a report of wrongdoing comes in,” said Safecall’s Managing Director, Joanna Lewis.

“It’s a positive sign that we are seeing more organisations taking whistleblowing seriously, but it’s concerning that less than half the respondents are reporting that staff are regularly trained on how to deal with whistleblowing matters and how to investigate them.”

The survey provides both good and bad news when respondents were asked to describe employee sentiment about whistleblowing. A clear majority believe their employees feel safe and confident reporting concerns of wrongdoing. However, the middle proportion of employees that only ‘generally feel safe’ in wrongdoing has risen significantly from 43% to 52%. This should be a cause for concern, says the report.

“Taking the steps to build a culture of trust in your organisation will not only improve the workplace for your employees, but also attract great people who want to work for you; enable you to better understand what is going on in your organisation and, perhaps most importantly, give you the tools to help you solve any issues, ” Joanna Lewis added.