Below is an excerpt from our white paper 12 Essentials for Communicating with Whistleblowers and Incident Reporters. Download the full white paper with all 12 tips.
One essential element of a strong whistleblower reporting system is often overlooked: communications with reporters—whether reporting anonymously or not—after they have logged their issue or concern. Reporters who feel that their concern has been heard and will be addressed often walk away from their reporting experience more engaged with and confident in their organization.
However, getting reporter communications wrong can have the opposite effect.
Reporters who don’t feel heard can become disengaged and disillusioned. They’re more likely to share their frustration internally among their colleagues—or air their complaints externally. Those external complaints could be on social media, with their attorney preparing for a law suit, or with a regulator. None of these are good outcomes.
With the SEC handing out sizeable monetary rewards for whistleblowing, it’s more important than ever to incentivize internal reporting and make each incident reporter feel supported and heard.
After many years of working with organizations and reporters, we’ve seen what approaches work best. Here are several essentials for effective communications with reporters.
Make Communications Reporter-CentricWhen thinking about how to communicate with reporters, put yourself in their shoes. They may be upset, afraid, and pessimistic that their report will be taken seriously. Make sure your tone is empathetic, and express your appreciation for their willingness to come forward. You may also wish to share certain details of the investigation to demonstrate that you take the report seriously.
Provide Regular Updates
The anxiety of wondering what is happening with a report is a part of reporting employers should take steps to minimize. Reporters who are left wondering what is happening—or whether anything is happening—is in a very difficult spot.
A good rule of thumb is to communicate with reporters every one to two weeks. The more an organization can do to educate employees and others on the process on the front end via policies or through the code of conduct, the better for all involved.
Be Clear About What Can and Cannot be Shared With Reporters
Your legal department (or other leadership) may have specific rules regarding what information can and cannot be shared regarding the investigation—including disciplinary action taken. Whatever your organization decides, make sure your investigators aware of the rules regarding reporter follow-up. All investigators should maintain a consistent standard regarding what information they share.
Make Sure Anonymous Reporters Understand the Need to Follow Up Anonymous reporters need to understand their responsibility to follow-up on their initial report, especially during the first week—and what’s at stake if they don’t follow through. If investigators need more information to move forward with an inquiry and can’t get it, everyone loses.
You can help establish this expectation for follow-up long before someone reports by making it part of your E&C training and awareness efforts. However, this directive also needs to be built into all anonymous reporting channels through messaging in the reporting interface itself.
To read the rest of our tips on communicating with incident reporters and whistleblowers, download the full white paper.