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Weaponizing whistleblowing

Stephen Young (stephen.young@risknavigationgroup.com) is Managing Director at Risk Navigation Group Inc. in Chicago, Illinois, USA.

Whistleblower services are in use at most larger organizations today. Most allow the reporter to remain anonymous. This is clearly a requirement to protect the reporters in certain cases; however, it also provides the cover to make false or damaging claims that can create a great deal of damage, cost, and disruption for the organizations (and people). The cover of anonymity has allowed crafty individuals to weaponize a process that was put in place to provide a method for reporting legitimate concerns.

Every company I have been part of has had locations or individuals that have mastered the use of the whistleblower service to promote their own agenda. This is often overlooked by companies and may result in damage to or loss of some very good people. So why does this happen?

Cultural issues may need to be addressed, but there are other contributors, such as over-awareness of the whistleblower system without appropriate instruction on when and how it is to be used. Employees may also observe certain events and make false assumptions (e.g., “Jane got transferred to a different location because she filed a whistleblower complaint about the supervisor,” or, “Joe got fired, because he had two people file whistleblower complaints against him.”). It may be that certain outcomes have nothing to do with whistleblower calls, but the perception is that the calls directly led to the outcomes. These perceptions may now encourage misuse of the whistleblower service throughout the ranks.

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