Whistleblowing

This is a very interesting subject. I have personally encountered whistleblowing on at least three occasions up to now in various organizations that I have worked for. Although we might be more concerned about this from a Federal perspective, on the other hand we have seen this occur in private and public companies and firms.  It might be that we feel that we need to be more vigilant of Federal activities, for after all, it is our tax dollars at work whereas in a privately held company, it is up to the public to choose to invest in a corrupt organization or not.

Do you think it is a good idea to always tell the truth?

I would say that yes, we do always have to tell the truth. However, we need to be mindful of what it is we are saying and who we are saying it to. If, for example, we become suspicious of something within an organization we work for, we need to direct our enquiry through the correct channels. I want to say that we should be sure of our allegations before making them. But this is not always possible.  Many times we know something is going on but we are not investigators. In addition, we would not be able to produce much evidence, or evidence that would stand up in court or in front of a team of smart attorneys.

This is why many places have toll free numbers and anonymous reporting. We can call, make our statement, and leave it up to the professionals to investigate.

An important point and one that I think of, and mention often, is the intent behind the whistleblowing. On many occasions,  too often the intent is not to correct the wrong, but to “snitch” on a colleague, in order to get the person disciplined or fired.

In one instance, in a company I worked for, a manager was redirecting funds and materials off-site and steering the income from this to a personal bank account. This went on for at least two years. Many were aware of it, but remained silent.

One of this manager’s mistakes was to begin having an affair with a colleague’s wife. This person then decided to “get back” at this manager by exposing these activities. He sent an anonymous fax from a laundromat, and the whole operation was exposed. People were fired and criminal charges were laid.

My point is the intent. This person (the “whistleblower”) was aware of this. He in fact benefitted in some ways too. But only when he felt like his own life was compromised, did he take action. I’m not saying he should have remained silent. I am questioning the intent behind the way he accomplished this.

Is there a difference between being a “team player” and a Whistleblower?

Yes I would say there is a huge difference. A team player that was actively participating in the team would soon notice an irregularity. The team player would then approach the supervisor, manager or whomever and bring this to their attention. Whistleblowers, in my experience normally bypass the chain of command and unfortunately, this is the stigma that they have created for themselves. Of course, not each and every whistleblower wants to have people fired and/or jailed but this perception comes with the word whistle-blower. It’s perhaps the term “whistleblower” that needs to be changed.

Now a team player would approach the suspected wrongdoer. If they failed to rectify the situation, then the matter could be taken further. Obviously this would depend on the size and type of illegal or unethical activity. But I still believe that a good team player would be aware of something that was going on if they had their “eye on the ball” like all team players should.

A whistleblower on the other hand is sometimes necessary. There are reasons for this such as something happening in a separate department, or at a distant location. But again, I come back to my opinion where if you care enough to do something, then go ahead and confront the person doing it. If they laugh you off, then by all means escalate the complaint.

When might the two be one in the same?

The problem is that the term whistleblower is too often seen in a negative light. It’s almost always associated with the word “snitch” – and also seen alongside someone doing something to avoid prosecution or discipline themselves, or doing it out of spite or malice.

But we must remember that a good team player could be forced into the role of a whistleblower if circumstances warrant it. These circumstances could be potential personal consequences to themselves or their family, or even threats of being fired.

Unfortunately, most whistleblowers themselves end up demoted, alienated from their colleagues or ostracized. Nobody like a snitch and that is an unfortunate consequence that various laws have tried to prevent, but nevertheless one can’t legislate against being a social outcast at the workplace .

When would you consider stepping up and confronting a boss who is demonstrating unethical conduct? What do you think will be the consequences?

To be honest, as long as is doesn’t affect me, I would probably just go about my daily tasks and mind my own business. I know that this is wrong, but I don’t see myself as a whistleblower. My opinion is that if someone wants to jeopardize their job and life in something unethical in the workplace, I am not going to put my job on the line, I have bills to pay and so on, and who is going to take care of me? But I would also look at what was going on, and consider a toll free anonymous method, or something similar. I have seen too much collateral damage to go and confront a director or senior executive, I would rather use an anonymous helpline if I felt strongly enough about it.

In these types of situations – it might sound cliché – but I consider what Jesus would do. He would probably confront, as in the temple. If it was a colleague or someone closer to my level, then no problem.  In fact, I saw this about 4 years ago in a company I was associated with. Nepotism, and other irregularities regularly occurred. Nobody said a thing; the hourly paid workers were too scared to lose their hours and as for me, I was on my way out to better things, so I looked the other way. By the way, that little cabal, as I like to call them – was broken up shortly afterwards because someone did say something.

There are many cases of the whistleblower being alienated, ostracized, demoted and put under pressure to resign. I also think companies themselves need to be more vigilant and if they are concerned about ethics, hire a compliance officer…