With the Royal Commission into banking misconduct now well underway, large corporates are increasingly being looked at through an ethical lens by the general public – and maintaining organisational integrity has never been more important.
“At present, consumers and employees are acutely aware of their rights and of what constitutes appropriate practice”, says Professor A. J. Brown of the Centre for Governance and Public Policy at Griffith University – ahead of the Whistleblowing Conference. “As a result we can expect – and hope – to see more people coming forward about instances of misconduct within their own organisations”.
Professor Brown believes it is vital that firms have adequate measures in place to support these whistleblowers.“In these times of restoring consumer trust, well-treated whistleblowers can be a company’s ‘best friend’, if the right approach is taken”, he says.
“In large corporations, maintaining integrity within all pockets of the business can be challenging. Whistleblowers can help diagnose areas of weakness before they are publicly exposed in the form of a high profile consumer complaint – like the dramas we have all been following in the Royal Commission”.
Professor Brown is the project leader for ‘Whistling While They Work 2’ – a three-year collaborative research study led by Griffith University; which surveyed 700 public and private sector organisations on their whistleblower protection strategies.
The first stage of the study found that only one third of businesses and not-for-profits provide designated support for whistleblowers; and just 20 percent have mechanisms for ensuring a whistleblower is left no worse off for having spoken up.
“We know organisations are waking up to the need to have good internal whistleblowing protections” adds Professor Brown. “But they may not yet realise the level of action required to make people feel adequately encouraged and supported to speak up, and to meet new corporate obligations”.
In a similar vein, Dennis Gentlin, Director of Human Systems Advisory, makes a distinction between formal and informal whistleblowing systems and says that both are vital for promoting the act.
“Formal and informal whistleblowing systems are symbiotic in that one is supportive of the other” he says. “If a company doesn’t create an environment where people feel comfortable raising concerns, the effectiveness of even the best formal whistleblowing programs can be compromised.”
Dennis advocates organisational cultures in which people feel they can and should speak up; in which those who do raise concerns are supported and taken seriously; and in which appropriate action is taken when wrongdoing is exposed. “A breakdown in any of these areas can significantly reduce the likelihood that those harbouring concerns will come forward”, adds Dennis.
Professor A.J. Brown and Dennis Gentilin are among an esteemed line up of speakers to address the Whistleblowing Conference – to be held 16 November in Sydney.