Sometimes when we investigate issues of misconduct and/or corruption in workplaces, we find ourselves asking – why didn’t anybody notice this earlier? Yet more often than not the answer to this question will be that people at least partially knew, but for a number of reasons they felt unable to act.

Those reasons tend to fall into one of three main groups, the ‘3P threats’:
• Position in the organisation.
• Prevalence of the misconduct.
• Processes for reporting (or the lack thereof).

By assisting staff to overcome these difficulties, it is possible for employers to create an organisation that builds resilience against misconduct.

We explore the range of threats and opportunities surrounding whistleblowing in the workplace.

1. Position in the organisation: “Don’t you value your job?”

It is no secret that for most workers, their job is a means to an end. By using their skills, they are able to pay for food, clothes, mortgage, education and recreation for them and their loved ones. When an ethical fork in the road occurs, such as witnessing misconduct at work, the average worker is faced with the possibility of their position in the organisation coming under threat, should they rock the boat and report the misconduct. Where the misconduct is occurring at a level higher in the organisation, the dilemma is even more pronounced for the worker. Power and position can be strong barriers to action against misconduct.

If effective, safe and accessible means of dealing with misconduct are not available to the employee, then they might well ignore the behaviour. Recriminations, undermining or enabling of dismissal are all real fears for the worker caught in this position.

2. Prevalence of misconduct: “That’s just the way it’s done”

For both new and seasoned workers alike, misconduct can be so subtle and so pervasive that they can simply miss the signs that something is wrong. For workers who have been around for some time, a type of misconduct-creep can occur where regulatory corners are gradually cut, slightly dubious deals are done and unusual ‘tweaks’ to the accounts begin to occur – just as examples.

Just like the fable of the slow-boiled frog, employees don’t notice that anything is wrong. The story goes that if you put a frog in cold water and gradually raise the heat, it will slowly pass away – not knowing anything is amiss. Conversely, if you throw a live frog into a pot of boiling water, it will leap right out with an outraged croak!

The moral is, employees who are slowly and increasingly exposed to workplace misconduct might simply see this as the status quo – nothing to be concerned about. However, it can sometimes be the newer employee, or somebody moving sections, that jumps out of the ‘boiling pot’ of misconduct – they notice that things are not at all okay in this workplace!

This prevalence and pervasiveness of workplace misconduct can lead to the types of corrupt falls-from-grace that we see all too often in corporate culture.

3. Processes for reporting: “Who should I tell?”

If we take both of these difficulties – the threat to an employee’s job and the insidious subtlety of misconduct – then add a hidden or non-existent process for reporting misconduct, then the likelihood of misconduct being effectively dealt with in the workplace might well reduce to zero.

A clear, transparent and preferably anonymous process through which employees can take their concerns is vital. They should not need to wade through HR documentation hoping to find the right person or phone number. At induction, an ethical culture should be championed and workers trained on signs of early potential misconduct. The best and most genuine processes will also encourage employees to approach appropriate external experts in situations where they believe that there is nobody internally with whom they can speak openly.

At Wise, we provide a whistleblower hotline service that enables employees at all levels of an organisation to speak freely and openly with our experts about suspected misconduct in the workplace.

With the well-reported damage that can be done to workplaces via misconduct and corruption, it benefits everybody in the long run if the ‘3P threats’ leading to misconduct can be dealt with professionally, quickly and effectively.

Speak with a professional confidentially today if you are concerned about misconduct in your workplace here on the Whistleblower Hotline.

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