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Whistleblowing is on the rise but office culture is still a major barrier

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP (‘Freshfields’) is launching new research today, which reveals that whistleblowing is becoming a more standardised practice in workplaces around the world, but that workplace culture is still deterring large numbers of employees from engaging in the practice.
 
Freshfields commissioned a survey of 2,500 business managers across the US, Asia and Europe, which was conducted by Censuswide in September 2017 and which analysed business views on whistleblowing.
 
According to the survey’s findings, almost half (47 per cent) of business managers are either witnessing or engaging in whistleblowing(1), suggesting that there has been a shift in behaviour since 2014, when Censuswide conducted a similar survey in partnership with Freshfields and only 34 per cent reported the same level of engagement. Similarly in the 2017 survey, only 13 per cent of business managers now claim that their employers are discouraging whistleblowing. This contrasts with the 2014 survey, in which 40 per cent of business managers reported that their employers were discouraging the practice.
 
Certain industry sectors and countries appear to be more engaged in the practice of whistleblowing than others. The latest data reveals that business managers in France and those working in the IT & Telecoms sector are now the most likely to be involved in whistleblowing, with 56 per cent and 63 per cent respectively confirming past involvement in the practice. In 2017, managers in the UK and those working in the Arts & Culture sector are now the least likely to have been involved in whistleblowing, with 35 per cent and 19 per cent respectively confirming past involvement in the practice.
 
However, while this survey does reveal increased levels of engagement in whistleblowing around the world, it also reveals that office culture is still deterring large numbers of business managers from engaging in it at all. 55 per cent of managers participating in the 2017 survey state that they and their co-workers would be deterred from whistleblowing by concerns that it would damage their career prospects or reputation. This is a particularly significant deterrent for business managers in Hong Kong (62 per cent) and in the UK (58 per cent).
 
A further 55 per cent claim that they and their co-workers would be deterred from whistleblowing by concerns that their reports would not remain anonymous. This is of significant concern for business managers in the US (62 per cent) and in the Healthcare sector (68 per cent). Anonymity or a lack of anonymity is a recurring theme within the 2017 research, with over half of business managers (59 per cent) claiming that it would be important for their organisation to know the identity of a whistleblower.
 
Commenting on the study, global head of Freshfields’ people and reward practice and member of the firm’s global investigations group, Caroline Stroud, said,
 
“Whistleblowing can play a vital role in enabling businesses to regulate themselves and avoid misconduct.
 
“While it is encouraging to see that there has been a positive shift in attitudes towards whistleblowing in our latest survey, it is clear that there is some way to go before it is perceived to be a fully accepted part of workplace culture. 
 
“In order to tackle employee concerns around whistleblowing, businesses need to consider how they implement and follow whistleblowing policies and procedures, and crucially they need to explore how they embed the practice into their corporate culture.
 
“For a whistleblowing process to work effectively, employees and employers alike need to feel protected by the policies in place and to believe that they are being enforced and endorsed from the top of an organisation down.”
 
Adam Siegel, Freshfields partner and co-head of its global investigations practice, added:
 
“With an ever increasing focus on holding companies responsible for misconduct coupled with an enhanced desire to pursue charges against individuals, an effective whistleblowing process has never been a more valuable asset for businesses. It can make the difference between learning about a problem when you still have the opportunity to address and remediate the situation and not discovering it until the regulator comes knocking on your door.  
 
“For a whistleblowing process to work effectively, however, a company needs to ensure that it does more than read well, but is also properly implemented. Most importantly, employees need to believe that senior management actually wants them to avail themselves of the process and that raising good-faith concerns will be welcomed and rewarded.” 
 
ENDS

Notes for editors

End notes
 
(1): This involvement in whistleblowing refers to business managers who have either engaged in whistleblowing themselves, seen a colleague whistleblowing, or received a whistleblowing report.
 
Survey Methodology
 
Freshfields and Censuswide conducted a survey in September 2017 of over 2,500 middle and senior managers from large organisations based in the US, UK, Hong Kong, Germany and France. The first half of the survey asked respondents to answer from their perspective as an employee. The second half of the survey asked senior-level employees to answer from their perspective as an employer.
 
This survey was compared to a survey conducted in 2014 by Freshfields and Censuswide of over 2,500 middle and senior managers from large organisations based in the US, UK, Hong Kong, Germany and France.
 
About Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP
 
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP is a global law firm with a long-standing track record of successfully supporting the world's leading national and multinational corporations, financial institutions and governments on ground-breaking and business-critical mandates. Our 2,800 plus lawyers deliver results worldwide through our own offices and alongside leading local firms.  Our commitment, local and multi-national expertise and business know-how means our clients rely on us when it matters most.

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