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Employee Voice and Whistleblowing

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I was talking to my friends at Public Concern at Work (www.pcaw.org.uk) last week about Employee Voice and whistleblowing.  PCAW is a wonderful UK based charity dedicated to supporting whistleblowers and “ensure that concerns about malpractice are properly raised and addressed in the workplace”.

We both agree that whistleblowing is the raising of concerns about potential malpractice or wrongdoing within an organization.  However, we also recognise that there is a public misconception that whistleblowing only occurs when such concerns are raised externally i.e. to the media or a regulator, whereas we believe (and the evidence agrees) that that the great majority of whistleblowing is only ever raised within a company.

“Employee voice” is an established academic term that is used to describe the degree to which employees have an input into organisational decisions.  Employee voice does not distinguish between potential wrongdoing i.e. whistleblowing and other types of employee input e.g. quality improvement or operational changes.  Higher levels of employee voice are linked to higher levels of employee engagement.

PCAW, like myself, strongly believe that the best way to address potential malpractice is to educate all employees and in particular managers to see ‘whistleblowing’ as a positive process which allows an organisation to resolve employee concerns and potentially stop financial loss and limit reputational damage. 

The trouble of course, is that while the adverse connotations of whistleblowing have been decreasing in society’s view over the last few years with the very public revelations of fraud, unnecessary patient deaths, public office misconduct, public surveillance and so on, most managers still view whistleblowing negatively.  It seems that while we are beginning to admire people who demonstrate workplace courage by bringing these extreme cases of malpractice to the public eye, we are less keen on having to deal with employees who bring their concerns to us!

Maybe the way forward is to work with organizations and managers in particular, to treat whistleblowing as an aspect of employee voice.  This is not to negate the very important work that organizations like PCAW do to support and advise whistleblowers, but to recognise that employee voice has very positive connotations with employee engagement and innovation.

Your thoughts are very welcome.