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What you need to know about whistleblowing

Whistleblowing has always been a dangerous business for those brave and principled enough to expose illegal or unethical activities within an organisation. The process can lead to isolation, harassment, lost work opportunities and forced job transfers. In more serious cases, a worker may be derailed by dismissal, legal action, and even physical assault.

But sidestepping some of that stress is possible, says Dr Simon Longstaff, executive director at The Ethics Centre. A non-profit organisation, The Ethics Centre ponders life’s curly questions and staffs a toll-free number so potential whistleblowers can talk with an “objective, independent person” when considering their options.

“Sometimes, making that phone call may lead to people blowing the whistle, at other times it might lead them through the thicket of problems that have been preventing them raising their concerns,” says Longstaff. “Those who do it [blow the whistle] have a fair amount of moral courage. It does put your career in jeopardy – and it has for a long time.”

Those who blow the whistle have a fair amount of moral courage. It does put your career in jeopardy – and it has for a long time.

He believes that in an ideal world, companies and organisations would create cultures that encourage employees to speak out, in-house, on matters of mismanagement, corruption and illegality. Building a workplace mindset that promotes open communication could conceivably flow into other areas, improving innovation, staff retention and productivity levels. Opening the floor to employees may also provide management with an early warning system before disagreements progress.

“Any person who experiences or spots some kind of inconsistency of conduct between what the organisation stands for and what it actually does, should be rewarded for the contribution they make towards an organisation’s continuous improvement,” Longstaff says.