I’m rather disturbed by an article in the Guardian today reporting that there has been a marked rise in the number of whistleblowers taking their (former) employers to employment tribunals over the last decade. According to the report, the number of cases has increased from 157 in 1999 to 1,791 last year.
Whistleblowers report wrongdoing or malpractice at their places of work. It makes absolutely no sense to me that they should be sacked, demoted or otherwise victimised for doing so. Surely it would be better to actually address their concerns and deal with the problems they have highlighted? What possible good can come of being dragged to an employment tribunal, having your firm’s dirty linen aired in public, and possibly having to stump up for damages, not to mention hefty legal bills?
Nobody likes to think that their business is being mismangaged, or that they are wilfully doing things wrong. It’s easy to come up with excuses for why you can’t do better, why you haven’t being following guidelines, or how you “slipped” and have found yourself on the wrong side of the law. And when a whistleblower — one of your own employees — comes to you and tells you that you have messed up, it’s understandable that you might see them as a troublemaker who needs to be dealt with.
And yet… it seems that far too often, rather than investigating whether their claims have any merit, managers are only too willing to stick their heads in the sand and deny that anything is wrong. The employee is told off for stirring up trouble, accused of not being a “team player.” They might even be punished, or sacked. Things will carry on as normal, until that one “disgruntled employee” with the determination, and more importantly proof, decides to take their grievance to the authorities. Now every man and his dog can find out what’s been going on in your business.
Whistleblowers could just be disgruntled employees hoping to cause problems for their bosses. They could be delusional fantasists with an agenda. For the most part, however, they are people who care about their job, their working environment and the company they work for. They want things to be better, not worse. That is why they take their concerns to management. Listening to them could help improve operations, raise standards for everyone in the company and nip potentially devastating problems in the bud. I don’t care how big your business is; an internal investigation is always cheaper than a lawsuit.
It can be hard to admit that you got things wrong, but it is infinitely more embarrassing to be forced to do so after receiving a public spanking. So the next time an employee asks to see you to raise a few issues, don’t immediately on the defensive. Listen to what they have to say, take their complaints seriously, and do what needs to be done. It could save you a lot of hassle in the future.
[Image by NatalieJ]