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Three Common Mistakes That Hurt Whistleblower Hotline Performance

Many organizations operate whistleblower hotlines with varying degrees of success. Regardless of how well your hotline performs, organizations typically make the same mistakes. If you correct one or more of these mistakes, your hotline could achieve a breakthrough in performance.  

With that goal in mind, here are the three most common mistakes that hurt hotline performance: 

Mistake #1: No News is Good News 

Hotline operators and management mistakenly believe that having fewer hotline reports is a good thing. According to Harvard Business Review, many executive leadership teams interviewed stated a "goal” to have zero reports, mistakenly thinking no news is good news.  

Actually, the more reports, the better. In their research paper, Evidence on the Use and Efficacy of Internal Whistleblowing Systems, Kyle Welch of George Washington University and Stephen Stubbon with the University of Utah, found a correlation between whistleblower report volume and benefit to the organization. They “found that companies that more actively use their internal reporting systems can identify and address problems internally before litigation becomes likely.”  

You can build support for your program by downloading research articles on whistleblowing usage for your company’s leadership. There is a clear business case for encouraging internal reporting. If management is thinking zero hotline reports is the goal, it’s a mind shift to see the value of more reports.  

Mistake #2: Your Go-To is HR 

Another common mistake made with whistleblower hotlines is a spike in HR reports. It’s a sign that rather than deal with complaints as a business, the business involves HR as the next step, not to mention edges closer to litigation. Why does this happen?  

Many organizations don’t know what to make of the reported information provided to them. Even in organizations where internal whistleblowing is supported, managers in departments default to a process of automatically referring reports to human resources. 

If there’s a straight line from internal whistleblower to HR, revisit this process. By integrating a review process at the management level, it's a win-win for both employees and management. Employees see that management values what the employee has to say or saw enough to report it. Management benefits from learning what happened that could hurt worker productivity and can address it.  

A repeatable process of internal whistleblowing and management addressing leads to a healthier environment where most whistles blown are solved without litigation or bad publicity. It also contributes to creating a speak-up culture at your organization.  

Mistake #3: Name-Calling 

The term, whistleblower, has a negative connotation. It suggests someone speaking out at considerable personal risk because of something terrible done by the company or a manager. Every industry, movies, politics, uses the term, whistleblower.  

Calling someone who reports on a hotline a whistleblower is akin to name-calling. It’s hurtful and potentially detrimental to the goal of the internal hotline.  

“Reporter” is a more accurate description of what the person is doing—anonymously reporting on what they saw or heard. What about “eyewitness”? Merriam-Webster defines eyewitness as one who gives a report on what he or she has seen. That sums up what whistleblowers do without the negative connotation.  

The term whistleblower won’t go away overnight. If organizations can start integrating replacement terms like reporter and eyewitness in describing their hotlines, it will begin to remove the stigma associated with whistleblower, contribute to speaking up, and improve hotline performance.  

As the Harvard Business Journal article noted, “more whistles blown are a sign of health, not illness.” That calls for improving your company’s hotline performance. The easiest way to accomplish that is by removing common mistakes, from changing leadership’s minds about the value of reports and revisiting how reports are processed to changing the nomenclature.  

See how easy it is to implement a whistleblower hotline at your company.


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