Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

The Effects of Interpersonal Closeness and Issue Seriousness on Blowing the Whistle

Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

The Effects of Interpersonal Closeness and Issue Seriousness on Blowing the Whistle

Article excerpt

Studies examining whistleblowers' behavior are growing in organizational behavior research. Past studies have found personal characteristics (Miceli & Near, 1984, 1988; Miceli, Roach, & Near, 1988) and organizational variables (Miceli & Near, 1991) as factors that may contribute to whistleblowing. Other researchers (Greenberger, Miceli, & Cohen, 1987) have indicated that group conformity may impede the whistleblowing process. That is, group members may pressure the observer of a wrongdoing not to reveal an incident if the group is benefiting from the illegal act (Greenberger, Miceli, & Cohen, 1987).

Although studies have examined whistleblowing primarily from an organizational behavior perspective, the process of revealing a wrongdoing is a communication phenomenon. Previous whistleblowing studies have largely ignored the interpersonal issues in regards to disclosing a wrongdoing. Although Greenberger et al. (1987) provide some insight into the effects of group conformity and cohesiveness, the paper does not address the interpersonal issues of whistleblowing. The purpose of this study is to examine whistleblowing from a communication perspective, by focusing on two potentially interacting variables, relational closeness and severity of the wrongdoing.

Research to date has examined individual and situational predictors of whistleblowing (Miceli, Near, & Schwenk, 1991; Miceli, Roach, & Near, 1988; Miceli & Near, 1992) but not the potential interaction effects of these variables. Furthermore, the interpersonal relations between the wrongdoer and the whistleblower have not been considered in previous research.

Studies recently (Fiesta, 1990a, 1990b; Fry, 1989; Haddad & Dougherty, 1991; Hancock, 1991; Israel & Lechner, 1989; Sturch, 1991; Tadd, 1991; Tharp & Mattingly, 1991) have expanded the literature on whistleblowing by examining the health care industry. These articles focus upon the ethics of whistleblowing among professional nurses and physicians, legal issues, the consequences of reporting a colleague, and the procedures for disclosing a wrongful act. Empirical research examining whistleblowing among nurses and physicians, however, is either scarce or nonexistent. The present study expands this whistleblowing research by empirically examining nurses' perceptions in the health care context.

Whistleblowing research has examined reports of unethical behavior among federal employees and directors of internal auditing (Miceli & Near, 1992). The findings from these studies, however, could not be generalized to other organizations. It is apparent that whistleblowing research needs to focus upon particular types of employees in specific types of organizations to get a better sense of industry effects.

In this study, nurses were selected due to their strong professional norms, loyalty, and clear channels for reporting unethical behavior. Empirical whistleblowing research has yet to examine an industry where numerous errors, abuses, incompetencies, "or dangers that threaten the public," (Rothrock, 1988, p. 758) "an individual, or more specifically a patient" (Tharp & Mattingly, 1991, p. 33) may be prevalent. Because of these and numerous other life or death factors, whistleblowing among registered nurses should be examined.

This study examines how a person's occupation and industry type may affect whistleblowing. It extends previous whistleblowing research by exploring how interpersonal relations interact with a situational variable, namely, severity of the wrongdoing. If whistleblowing is perceived as a prosocial behavior, do organizational members engage in whistleblowing against friends? Furthermore, what would encourage employees to report a friend?

Review of Literature: Whistleblowing

Hardly a week passes when the media do not report a case of whistleblowing (Miceli, Near, & Schwenk, 1991). Whistleblowing is new to our glossary of terms associated with ethics (Bok, 1980) and organizational behavior. …

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