How to encourage employees to speak up when they see wrongdoing

Employees who see wrongdoing are in a vulnerable position. They may be hesitant to speak up when they see wrongdoing out of fear of repercussions. Read on to discover why employees don't speak up when they see wrongdoing, and how you can support them to use their voice by developing a speak up culture.

April 17, 2024
5 min read

How to encourage employees to speak up when they see wrongdoing

Society knows about the importance of whistleblowing, but when it comes to misconduct reporting, the statistics say something different. Only around 30% of employees raises their concern more than once. So, what’s going on?

We’ve been in the industry for more than two decades, so it’s not news to us that raising misconduct concerns can be tough. People are afraid to come forward for a myriad of reasons, but above all, they fear the repercussions.

As you will be aware, the introduction of the EU Whistleblowing Directive means that whistleblowers are more protected than ever. A pivotal piece of the puzzle is fostering an ethical organisational culture, where employees must be aware of and feel safe to use reporting channels.

Read on to learn how creating a safe working culture can encourage employees to speak up when they see wrongdoing. Discover how reporting systems can support the reporter and prevent issues from escalating.  

The benefits of building a speak up culture

Speaking up goes beyond adhering to compliance; leaders must know what’s going on inside their organisation so they’re prepared when issues arise. The benefits of building a speak up culture include early detection of misconduct, better retention of top talent, higher employee engagement, and more transparency and accountability.

Unfortunately, the reality of repercussions for whistleblowers are real. One study showed that 82% of whistleblowers suffer harassment after sharing their story. Tragically, people sometimes face other consequences once they speak out like facing judgement and even ostracisation from colleagues.

Gender stereotypes impact who speaks up

Despite the importance of speaking up, studies show that female reporters generally face more retaliation than male reporters. This could be due to outdated stereotypes.

Improving workplace culture helps to create a more equal environment where peoples’ differences are celebrated. It should not be the responsibility of affected individuals to create these systems, but rather a focus of leadership teams.

So, what can leaders do to encourage employees to report wrongdoings when they encounter them?

How leaders can encourage employees to speak up

Some leaders are not adequately supporting their employees to come forward. While leaders may strive to uphold a culture of integrity, there are factors that can hinder the process. As leaders, you have to take into account factors like these:

Understanding the role of emotions in speaking up

Rules and policies usually don't encourage people to report misconduct. Reporters are in a vulnerable position and need a listening ear. Access to user-friendly systems that won’t overwhelm them further can help facilitate speaking up.

Letting actions align with their words

Speaking up starts with leadership. As soon as there is a lack of transparency from those at the helm, trust and confidence erodes within. Employees may become disillusioned and demotivated, leading to a loss of productivity. Most importantly, people won’t raise concerns if they feel it’s futile.  

How to encourage employees to speak up through workplace culture

Being compliant goes beyond just ’ticking the box’. Research shows that less than half of employees know about reporting systems in their organisation. All reporting systems are not created equal and there’s little point in having them if they go unused. If you’re using a whistleblowing software, ensure that it is available in multiple languages, can be customised, and used on multiple devices like web, app, and phone.

A speak-up culture grows from critically assessing if your organisation provides a safe environment. Thankfully there are initiatives every organisation can take in order to build a better working environment. Some initiatives to implement include:

Working to build trust

Encourage people to come forward when they see wrongdoing by making them feel psychologically safe. This can start with something as simple as how you handle employees making mistakes. Use these moments as a learning opportunity. Reframe a potentially negative situation and instead ask ‘What did you learn?’. This will help create a bond of trust and, in turn, perhaps they’ll feel safer reporting misconduct.

Training and education

E-learning trainings can help leaders learn how to listen. Education can also help employees know where to go when they encounter misconduct. Make sure your employees have the knowledge they need by informing them of reporting systems through posters, internal communication channels, and updated company policies. You may also choose to share videos about how an individual can file a report.

Choosing the right tools

Fear of retribution is a huge factor in why reporters don’t come forward. Part of a safe working culture includes providing access to adequate whistleblowing systems. Employees may feel more able to share their stories if they can use a hassle-free anonymous reporting software.

Building a culture where employees feel comfortable speaking up isn’t a quick fix. However, actively working towards it encourages people to be in the know and take early action when they suspect misconduct. If you listen to voices within, you can prevent problems from escalating. 

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