In this follow up to his first article on the subject Greg Lawton discusses the benefits of whistleblowing.
If I were an employer, I’d actively recruit whistleblowers; I’d want people who’d care enough to do the same for my organisation.
Whistleblowers won’t always get it right, but some have helped put a stop to unnecessary deaths, abuse in care homes, fraud and the misuse of personal data, for example. Yet, the public is still faced with scandals on the news such as Gosport Hospital, Grenfell and Facebook’s misuse of personal data. It has to become easier to blow the whistle – and for that to be acted upon – at an early stage.
In the first article, I said I believe that how people react to whistleblowing is a consequence of human nature. With that starting point, I think there are two fundamental solutions.
1. Legal Reform.
The UK’s Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA) is outdated and is now poor by international standards. Its purpose is to allow whistleblowers to sue for compensation for the wrongdoing they’ve already experienced. The process is fraught with legal difficulties and can take months or even years, and aside from the emotional stress, it leaves some people jobless, blacklisted and in financial ruin. The law often provides no consequence for those who’ve tried to suppress it or failed to act – because the compensation is paid by the company they work for and not themselves. Bigger companies actually budget for such payouts and take it all in their stride.
Legal reform is needed to provide better protections and greater consequences for those who suppress whistleblowing or fail to act appropriately upon it. The law should also facilitate easier whistleblowing to authorities that have the means to investigate and hold to account, independent of employers. Employers will also need protecting, too – for example where they acted appropriately but it’s beyond their control to fix the issue raised.
A new EU whistleblowing directive has been approved, but what happens with that is subject to Brexit.
2. The benefits of whistleblowing.
The way we think about whistleblowing needs to change.
The approach in the NHS provides a good example of what’s wrong; the focus and language is about the Freedom to Speak Up, and much emanates from that starting point.
Here’s the problem: What if I’m free to speak up, but nobody’s listening?
A more developed approach will not only focus on enabling whistleblowing, but the requirement to act and implement robust, enduring solutions which fix the problems identified. It’s this principle that I was involved in writing in to the Pharmacists’ Defence Association’s Safer Pharmacies Charter – which invites commitments from employers about patient safety.
However, there’s an even more developed approach – and this is where I think the greatest victory lies. The best, most enlightened governments, authorities and organisations will think about whistleblowing differently. They’ll actively embrace it – not because the rules require it, but because they recognise the benefits it brings.
Consider the impact on an organisation where whistleblowing was positively embraced. By treating people in the right way, especially when they’re at their most vulnerable, they’ll recognise and appreciate the way the organisation has treated them. They’ll think and talk about the organisation positively. Employee brand advocacy is perhaps the most powerful, natural PR an organisation can get.
Other benefits would include:
- Improved employee satisfaction and retention.
- The organisation becomes more attractive to new employees, as new recruits hear good things.
- The board of directors receives better insights and flow of information from its staff, becoming more informed in its decision-making and responsive to its circumstances and environment.
- HR and legal costs associated with poor treatment of whistleblowers, and the costs of bad PR, are reduced.
- Staff report theft, fraud and safety concerns sooner, allowing them to be dealt with earlier.
- With more accountable management and better corporate governance, a self-perpetuating cycle of improvement is established, where the positive experiences of staff members fuel organisational success.
This involves a paradigm shift, away from the fear of what whistleblowers might say and towards the realisation of the benefits. It’s an ideal win-win approach for the employer and the whistleblower alike. It needs to be underpinned by legal reform for it to take effect widely in society, but there’s nothing to stop individual organisations blazing a trail in the meantime.