I originally wrote this piece in 2012, but after reading an interesting article about the importance of being alert and ensure the organisation is secured and safeguarded (!) I thought it was worth repeating. The original no longer exists (I took it down with changes to my work). Is it uncomfortable reading? It should not be, and the subject has to be included in every managers arsenal of resources and information and conveyed realistically to employees.
A whistleblowing ‘system’ or policy must be flexible enough to allow the whistleblower to select their point of entry. What I mean by that, and I’ll give you examples here, is that some policies are written without an understanding that the situation being exposed or reported can sometimes include the very people involved in the ‘situation/incident’.
Whistleblowing policy of a local Government Organisation:
How to Raise a Concern:
“8.1: You should raise this in the first instance with your line manager. In most cases, the matter will be dealt with at that stage. The earlier you raise your concern, the easier it will be to take action. REMEMBER, IF IN DOUBT, RAISE IT.”
Does this make sense at all? Shouldn’t the confidentiality and the need to ensure all allegations are independently dealt with place a third party requirement on this?
If the line manager does not respond, chooses not to acknowledge or is involved in some way with the issue being reported, there has to be an alternative. His line Manager? What if that line Manager also has an involvement? Problem? What happens when threats get used to try and prevent reporting? Where does the 'whistleblower" turn?
Ultimately the majority of potential whistleblowers refrain from stirring things up, and this allows situations go unreported. Unreported means unresolved. Unresolved means that they can continue. In a quite spectacular revelation, some employers will go one step further and attempt to stop information being made public (or reported) by settling through payment to individuals. While this may be quite common, it hardly addresses any issue other than smothering any information leakage. In one case a local council in the NW has recently been seen to have spent £1.3m of public money doing just this. Surely this should be investigated and prevented. Usually all such ex-gratis payments are kept confidential under ( legally binding or not ) agreements of one kind or another benefiting the organisation, and usually paying the whistleblower.
Frankly none of this is good enough, especially in the Public Sector where ‘our’ money is being used. Imagine this, public money, at a time of great fiscal pressure could be squandered (and sometimes squandered covering up financial irregularities); that illegitimate use of public funds reported via whistleblowing only to become the subject of a publicly funded conditional payment to prevent the public ever finding out.
How crazy can it get?
Here is a simple suggestion (to alleviate ant possible contradictions and misunderstanding):
- All whistle-blowing instances should be heard by independent bodies/persons
- These should be recorded for the future in a form that can provided evidence that can be carried forward should the case require it. This is evidence.
- The incident should be investigated to establish credibility. If the reported whistleblowing is regarding any possible illegality, it must be reported to the Police.
Without this sort of procedure being in place, there really is never going to be any security or encouragement for people to do the right thing.
Any such situation should always be resolved as close to ‘home’ as possible, and with the minimum of fuss, but it must also be afforded full weight whem it comes to legality, or the potential for leading to breaking the law in whatever form that takes.
I will give you an example or two of mishandled whistleblowing incidents (that I am aware of). You can make what you like of these, but ask yourself the questions;
- What would I have done, as whistleblower or as the person being reported to?
- What would you see the next step as being, for the person whistleblowing and for the organisation that is employing the perpetrators (being reported)?
- Finally, once exposed, what do you think the message should be to everyone else?
1) A member of staff who has chosen not to declare the fact , has been convicted of Grievous Bodily Harm at a Crown Court. He applies to work with a vulnerable group of people, and while being considered for that role is accused (and has to appear in court ) for a second count of Grievous Bodily Harm. He is a friend of your Manager and he is appointed over you to the role. What would you do - if anything?
2) You are aware that a series of thefts of IT equipment from your Department (internal storeroom) is showing a pattern, but more importantly, you are aware that a computer stolen from the secure area contains a large amount of very confidential, personal data that is not backed up. That data, if it became public knowledge would cause your organisation to become the subject of an investigation from the ICO or worse. You advise your line manager of the loss. He ignore it and refuses to take your suggestion to report the theft and call in the Police. What should happen next?
3) You become aware of a financial irregularity in the accounting of a project you are involved in. The irregularity does not (as far as you are aware) involve theft, but that money that can from a funder has been improperly used to the ultimately detriment of the project beneficiaries/funders main purpose? Would you whistle bow? If so, who to, if your ‘bosses-boss” seemed to condone it?
4) You are aware that money promised to your own work is tight, provided specifically for the project you run by an external funder. You are told by your Manager that money that should be destined for your service but is being redirected for other purposes, and "Leave it to me - don't worry about it, no one will ever check up". At audit, you are placed under pressure to deflect any questions, and not to "rock-the-boat" Would you whistleblow?
5) A member of staff who regularly drives your company transport to bring clients to your office seems to have a distinct odour of alcohol on their breath one morning, and you know that are driving that day. You talk to your line manager, but nothing changes; the incident happens again. Is this a situation would you whistleblowing or not?
Thank goodness we don’t meet these sort of creative unrealistic situations every day.
Or are these all actually real?
In fact they are all either observed or reported instances.
The reason I have republished this article is simple. Today, but with caution, digital could offer a way to ensure that reporting, but how could we ensure that in providing a seriously important service that it would not be abused?