Creating a ‘speak-up’ culture is a difficult task, but when it comes to encouraging employees to “blow the whistle” culture will always win over compliance. There are two key elements to culture which may act as a barrier against whistleblowing; external and internal culture.
External culture represents how whistleblowers are portrayed in a particular country, through legislation, the media or via industry stereotypes. If the majority of news and media concerning whistleblowing is negative or involves adverse consequences for those who report, employees will be discouraged from speaking up. Alternatively, if there are positive examples of whistleblowing and support is given to reporters, i.e. through legislation, employees will feel more comfortable reporting. North America has been seen to positively report on, respond to and reward acts of whistleblowing, so unsurprisingly in NAVEX Global’s 2017 Hotline & Incident Management Benchmark Report, they were found to be responsible for 82% of all global reports. In contrast, Europe, where attitudes towards whistleblowing are shifting positively, the region was still responsible for only 3.1% of all global reports.
Sapin II is a massive step forward for the external perception of whistleblowing in France, with a very strong legislative arm to support enforcement. There is still a long way to for the legislation to actually influence positive change in attitudes like those seen in North America, but it is a positive step. Within corporations, Sapin II compliance must be seen not simply as another stringent law to comply with, but as a positive force in aligning France with other countries in the fight against bribery and corruption and promoting a positive view of those who report wrongdoing.
It is difficult for one company to influence external attitudes to whistleblowing, but a positive internal culture can be developed even in the absence of legislation like Sapin II. But, before an internal culture can be changed, it must first be understood. To evaluate a company’s attitude towards whistleblowing, a number of factors should be considered. The first may be employee’s current attitudes to whistleblowers; do they view them as disloyal or do they see them as acting in the company’s best interests? What can the company compliance and ethics programme tell you about employee awareness; will whistleblowing be a completely new initiative for the business or an evolvement of the current compliance programme? Another important factor is the level of dialogue within a business; filing a whistleblowing report requires an employee feeling comfortable with speaking out, so have strong lines of communication between employees and their line managers been established? Is the compliance department actively engaged with the employee base? Has senior leadership communicated that retaliation will not be tolerated?
Maxime Goualin, Business Ethics & Human Rights Manager of Schneider Electric, believes that fundamentally compliance teams should “design a value-based programme instead of focusing on rules-based initiatives”. A value led focus will align the programme with the needs and culture of the company. Maxime offers the example of Schneider Electric who focus their compliance programme around their Corporate Social Responsibility goals, “we don’t fight corruption because of legislation, we fight it because it is the right thing to do and is the responsibility of all of our staff”.
The shift from regulation to ethical responsibility is more likely to increase awareness, engagement and commitment across the workforce.
The core values which should support the whistleblowing programme must come from senior executives. As Carrie Penman, CCO of NAVEX Global, notes “too often senior management do not send the right messages to staff. Many do not encourage their employees to report their concerns or unethical or corrupt behaviour [they witness]”. The ethical tone for the business should come from the top and filter down through the management chain. By supporting the whistleblowing programme, top executives are offering reassurance to employees that speaking up is both welcome and encouraged and that the company sees it not just as a way to tick the legislation box, but as a business benefit.
A positive whistleblowing culture brings with it a number of benefits to a business, including the ability to investigate a report early and catch any issues before they develop into a regulatory or reputational crises. It is vital that such benefits are communicated and recognised. A whistleblowing programme is not merely an add-on, it is an integral part of a company’s fight against acts of corruption.