LEGAL & FINANCE : Whistleblowers Are Good; David Liddell, Director, PKF Forensic Services, Looks at the Issue of Whistleblowing

Article excerpt

Byline: David Liddell

What is whistleblowing? It's not, as perhaps some managers imagine, just another way for disgruntled employees to complain. On the contrary, whistleblowing can be a vital part of a healthy business.

It is important first of all to note that the person 'blowing the whistle' is usually not affected by the issue to which they are drawing attention.

Far more often, they are simply trying to alert others.

Whistleblowing can protect your company's reputation. If you are a director or senior manager it can save your career - it can keep you out of jail. It can alert you to practices and problems that pose a threat to the public, to employees, to the reputation of the business, or to the business itself.

Whistleblowers are our ally - rooting out incompetence, fraud and neglect, saving jobs, money, even lives.

A strong whistleblowing policy helps you detect and deter wrong doing, gather the information you need to make decisions and manage risk, demonstrate that you are serious about good governance and management, reduce the prospect of malicious and anonymous leaks, including to the media and reduce your legal risks So, if it's so helpful, what's the problem?

The answer is simple: culture.

Whistleblowing requires a high degree of organisational openness. It must be seen to be acceptable for concerns and questions to be raised, for issues to be investigated. Staff must feel their concerns are valued and taken seriously, even if those concerns prove to be unfounded. This is not as easy as it may sound. Organisations seem instinctively to treat whistleblowers as undesirable, however irrational this attitude appears. Our language has many names for those who 'speak up': snitch, grass, rat, telltale and troublemaker are just some of the more flattering ones.

But how do you create the right culture?

Involve your employees, agree on a sense of right and wrong, explain how wrongdoing affects your organisation. Highlight the effect on jobs, morale and on everyone. Explain that whistleblowers are witnesses not complainants. Help everyone to see that these key messengers are part of the solution, not the problem.

Encourage reporting. Ask staff to keep their eyes and ears open and to keep you informed of concerns. …