In too many organizations, so-called whistle-blowers are seen as disgruntled soreheads who run to a court or government agency – or to social media – whenever they perceive wrongdoing by the employer.
But extensive new research suggests most whistle-blowers:
- Don’t want to go outside the company to fix the problem.
- Are pushed to go outside because managers failed to address the employee’s initial concerns.
In other words, if someone internally had just listened in the first place, the employer could have saved a lot of aggravation caused by whistle-blowing.
That indicates the problem often isn’t about the complaining employee; it’s about management that fails to communicate with the employee.
Why does that happen?
One reason – one mistake
One reason – and one mistake – some supervisors might be making is assuming complaints that seem obviously off-base don’t need to be addressed.
It’s easy to do. Maybe a loose, dumb comment or some insensitive behavior blows up into a charge of discrimination or sexual harassment.
Or maybe someone who had no shot at a promotion begins to believe that the failure to move up the ladder stems from something other than performance or skills.
They’re just troublemakers who are looking to embarrass the supervisor and the employer, or maybe realize some monetary gain, right?
Who and when
Generally not true, if you consider some data from a study funded by Dell and URS:
- Only about 2% of employees go outside the organization as a first reaction to perceived wrongdoing.
- 56% of those who reported problems first took their complaints to someone they knew and trusted inside the company, such as a direct supervisor or HR manager.
- Only about 5% of employees said they would engage in whistleblowing or a lawsuit for the sheer monetary reward.
- Whistle-blowing and going outside the company to complain – or sue – tend to happen less often among companies that are struggling financially, suggesting that employees are reluctant to add to company problems at a time of financial difficulty.
Hear them out
Yes, of course employees can be wrong or mistaken. Still, they want someone to hear them out when they have a complaint about bias, harassment, safety or some other real or perceived concern.
In short, they don’t want their complaints to be ignored.
With, three things to keep in mind:
- Don’t go by reputation. A common problem pops up when someone who’s made groundless complaints or charges before then makes another complaint. Treat every complaint as if it’s a legitimate one. The latest complaint could be a valid one.
- Do let employees know you’re looking into it, and keep letting them know. A mistake: The supervisor launches into a full-investigation but never tells the complaining employee about how things are progressing. In that instance, the employee will assume the worst – that the matter has been dropped or ignored.
- Don’t put it off. As the saying goes, justice delayed is justice denied. Within reason, and as your schedule allows, look into the complaint and get a resolution as quickly as possible.