The tradition of whistleblowing has been established for decades. Typically, it involves an employee identifying bad behaviour of senior people and confidentially reporting them. There are many famous cases where this has brought wrongdoing to light and lead to improvements.

We recently saw that the Australian Tax Office decided to encourage its employees to blow the whistle on colleagues. They emailed their staff encouraging them to identify and confidentially report colleagues who were not working the hours that they were supposed to.

This raises a very interesting ethical question. Should you do this? Well, like most ethical questions there are some pros and cons.

Pros

  • When employees participate in activities which make workplace behaviours better you get higher levels of engagement in staff. Higher engagement means higher levels of productivity, but it also means happier and more satisfied employees.
  • Employees are often very resentful of colleagues who are doing the wrong thing, particularly if it results in worse service to customers they care about or in them having to do more work in order to “take up the slack”. Under these circumstances there may well be a sense of justice in blowing the whistle.
  • If your corporate culture suits this it may well work. In some organisations people have a deep sense of responsibility and commitment to the employer and so it would be normal and acceptable to do this.

Cons

  • It can breed distrust amongst employees. If it comes to your attention that an unknown person has made a complaint against you this is a very stressful and negative experience, particularly if there is a presumption of guilt. You may not look at your colleagues in the same light after this experience.
  • There needs to be good governance surrounding this process to ensure that the complaints are not “vexatious” and simply targeted against people the complainant doesn’t like. There should be an accountability to make sure that the complaints are well-founded.
  • Not every corporate culture can live with this. If the organisation is one in which the sense of commitment to the employer is not strong and employees feel more of a common bond than the suggestion from management is likely to breed further distrust of the organisation.

I think it all comes down to the question of your corporate culture. You need to decide whether you are the kind of organisation where this will work. If you are not the mere suggestion may make things worse.

The behaviour of leaders is the key driver of the behaviour of colleagues. Click here to find out how to measure leader behaviours to ensure that they encourage staff to behave the right way.

Andrew Marty
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