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Why technology is more important than ever for whistleblowing

(Image credit: Image Credit: StartupStockPhotos / Pixabay)

2020 will go down in history as the year that triggered a significant shift in workplace environment. The pandemic, coupled with the continued momentum of social justice movements, has created a clear epoch in the popular consciousness and attitudes to what we as humans value most. In fact, research by Glassdoor found that the top predictor of employee satisfaction is now the culture and values of an organization. And a study by Citrix, revealed that 76 percent of workers believe that employees will be more likely to prioritize lifestyle (family and personal interests) over proximity to work, and will pursue jobs in locations where they can focus on both — even if it means taking a pay cut. 

Covid-19 is the catalyst that is forcing transformation of one of the last bastions of legacy (analog) thinking — the workforce. Business as usual, is over. Digital transformation and hybrid working are here to stay, and now, more than ever before, it’s critical that employees report their concerns and for management to understand reports so they can stay ahead of workplace issues. The question is, how do organizations facilitate such a big cultural change and how do they capture feedback?

Reporting goes digital 

To answer this, let’s start by understanding the way incidents — an instance of something happening in relation to organizations investigating and managing ethics and compliance — have been reported during 2020. NAVEX Global’s 2021 Risk and Compliance Incident Management Benchmark report tracked and analyzed corporate compliance trends based on data from more than 1.3 million global incident management reports from over 54 million employees in 2020. It showed, that during the events of 2020, online reporting increased by 7 percent and telephone reporting fell by 9 percent. What’s more, in 2020, thanks to the massive shift to work-from-home, almost half of all reports (48 percent) were submitted online, marking a 26 percent increase since 2017. This trend sees a corresponding shift away from telephony where the median percentage of telephone reports fell to 31 percent – their lowest levels yet.

Should current trends around hybrid working and continued digital transformation persist, it is likely that 2021 will mark a major turning point in how workplace misconduct is reported. Most businesses will start receiving the bulk of their reports online, and they need to be prepared to do so.

Rapidly changing behavior requires adaptation

Before changing all the systems to online incident reporting models it’s important to understand why these changes are happening. The increasing popularity of online reporting is likely attributable to several factors. Firstly, there’s been significant advancement of the technology that enables online reporting, and feedback. Secondly, there is a generational change afoot in business — with more millennials in charge, and more of the Generation-Z demographic entering the workforce.  The latter point is important as these groups of digital natives are more accustomed to online portals and self-service style options. In other words, phone reporting hotlines alone are simply not good enough anymore, and organizations operating legacy solutions will suffer from lack of engagement/adaptation to modern user behavior.

As we move forwards, post-pandemic, it’s unlikely that organizations will ever return to the office 9 to 5, five days a week. As a matter of fact, an Accenture poll showed that one in four (24 percent) city employees want to continue home-working full-time after the Covid-19 crisis. Yet, whistleblowing will be more important as internal ‘physical’ visibility is reduced, and businesses should adapt to the ways that people are finding most effective. To make the most of whistleblowing programs, as a means of risk management/prevention, companies must therefore adapt to incorporate the trend of digital engagement/communication to a) still be made aware of issues, and b) be aware of them in time to act pre-emptively.

Tech and training rules the world

Now that we understand why adaptation, and technology adoption is critical to whistleblowing, there is reason to explore which systems organizations should be investing in. The reality is, we live in a data-driven era. One in which data is more valuable than oil. 

A century ago, the most valuable resource in the world was oil. Those who controlled oil, controlled the economy. Today, the same can be said about data. Tech titans such as Alphabet (Google’s parent company), Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft are unstoppable. So much so that they are the five most valuable listed firms in the world. In whistleblowing terms data is of immense importance especially as reporting rates have decreased. Yet, just because people aren’t reporting at the same rates as before it doesn’t mean employees aren’t seeing wrongdoing or talking about it; it means they aren’t talking about it to the business. In addition, gaining actionable insights from whistleblowing data is especially valuable, as there is now a delay between occurrence and reporting impacts the organizations’ ability to prevent said misconduct from occurring in the first place – or at least, act swiftly on it.

It’s therefore vital for organizations to make reporting easier, and data about it more visible. Companies need to invest in whistleblowing technology that enhances data accessibility for analysis, interpretation and understanding (reporting) of greater patterns/trends is vital to make these programs work. When buying whistleblowing technology those who implement the programs and purchase the technology must ensure that tracking in a single, centralized database — whether reports come in via phone lines or online channels — is possible. This is because it is now critical to collating important information for an effective, streamlined process, and to get the most insights and value from data. 

Equally important as investing in the right technology is training for employees. All staff should be provided with awareness training around the various reporting channels, and security and protection measure available to them in the context of whistleblowing. Employees, also need to be trained on/made aware of how to use the reporting technology itself. From experience, we say this as user experience is a key driving factor in engagement in these programs. After all, if people do not feel comfortable/secure using a certain channel, they won’t report – so organizations need to give employees all options to ensure as many reports as possible are captured.

The future starts now

It’s clear that in the post-pandemic hybrid working world employees are hyper-focused on the culture and values of organizations. They want to work for businesses that put them and their concerns first. To make the most of the social consciousness around events of the past year and embed good ethical practices as well as set themselves up for future success, organizations must make investments in whistleblowing technology and training right now. In doing so, organizations will establish a reliable starting point from which to earn trust, as it is a strategy that seeks to directly manage conduct risk at a cultural level. Those that take the leap, and invest, will seize the opportunity of this moment and emerge with a stronger cultural focus and more sustainable business practices — thereby ensuring employee trust and engagement.

Carrie Penman, Chief Risk and Compliance Officer, NAVEX Global

As Chief Risk and Compliance Officer for NAVEX Global, Carrie leads the company’s formal risk management processes. She also oversees its internal ethics and compliance activities employing many of the best practices that NAVEX Global recommends to its customers.