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Training and communications that encourage reporting

Jason B. Meyer (jason@leadgood.org) is President of LeadGood LLC in Princeton, New Jersey, USA. Amy E. McDougal (amy.mcdougal@clearesources.com) is President of CLEAResources LLC in Washington, DC.

It’s all about reporting.

Aren’t we ready, as ethics and compliance professionals, to stipulate to that sentence? Is there another single objective of ours that is as encompassing and yields the same benefit? Research conducted by LRN and Todd Rowen back in 2012[1] proved that levels of reporting were the single greatest predictor of a company’s level of compliance, and this has been reinforced anecdotally and by research ever since.[2] Despite this, we see that a common root cause of major compliance and ethics failures is a reporting breakdown. In looking into these cases, we end up exploring why employees hesitated to report wrongdoing.

In the English language, whistleblowers are known by other names: muckrakers, snitches, rats, tattletales, moles, or leakers. Management and even coworkers can use mobbing, gaslighting, devaluing, marginalizing, shunning, blackballing, double-binding, accusing, and emotional harassment against a whistleblower in order to protect themselves or the organization from accountability or liability arising from wrongdoing. This kind of institutional violence may result in workplace traumatic stress or moral injury, causing posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, substance abuse, and suicide. The impact of this toxic culture can extend far beyond the whistleblowing employee, however. An unhealthy workplace is often associated with absenteeism and lost productivity, sabotage and theft, violence, and even death related to stress due to abusive workplace conditions, retaliation, or workplace violence.[3]

So it comes as no surprise that the U.S. Department of Justice emphasizes the important role of reporting in its newest guidance for compliance programs, which states that a confidential reporting structure and investigative process must include “proactive measures to create a workplace atmosphere without fear of retaliation, appropriate processes for the submission of complaints, and processes to protect whistleblowers.”[4]

For this article, we’d like to explore a few examples of effective speak-up cultures with which we are most familiar. Our goal is not to catalog every successful approach; rather, we want to draw some lessons from the efforts we have personally seen work.

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