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The Latest from the Blog

3 Reasons Why People Fail to Report Misconduct at Work

Harriet Witchell - Monday, October 24, 2016

Sometimes when we investigate issues of misconduct and/or corruption in workplaces, we find ourselves asking – why didn’t anybody notice this earlier? Yet more often than not the answer to this question will be that people at least partially knew, but for a number of reasons they felt unable to act.

Those reasons tend to fall into one of three main groups, the ‘3P threats’:
Position in the organisation.
Prevalence of the misconduct. 
Processes for reporting (or the lack thereof).

By assisting staff to overcome these difficulties, it is possible for employers to create an organisation that builds resilience against misconduct. 

We explore the range of threats and opportunities surrounding whistleblowing in the workplace.
1. Position in the organisation: “Don’t you value your job?”
It is no secret that for most workers, their job is a means to an end. By using their skills, they are able to pay for food, clothes, mortgage, education and recreation for them and their loved ones. When an ethical fork in the road occurs, such as witnessing misconduct at work, the average worker is faced with the possibility of their position in the organisation coming under threat, should they rock the boat and report the misconduct. Where the misconduct is occurring at a level higher in the organisation, the dilemma is even more pronounced for the worker. Power and position can be strong barriers to action against misconduct.

If effective, safe and accessible means of dealing with misconduct are not available to the employee, then they might well ignore the behaviour. Recriminations, undermining or enabling of dismissal are all real fears for the worker caught in this position.
2. Prevalence of misconduct: “That’s just the way it’s done”
For both new and seasoned workers alike, misconduct can be so subtle and so pervasive that they can simply miss the signs that something is wrong. For workers who have been around for some time, a type of misconduct-creep can occur where regulatory corners are gradually cut, slightly dubious deals are done and unusual ‘tweaks’ to the accounts begin to occur – just as examples.

Just like the fable of the slow-boiled frog, employees don’t notice that anything is wrong. The story goes that if you put a frog in cold water and gradually raise the heat, it will slowly pass away – not knowing anything is amiss. Conversely, if you throw a live frog into a pot of boiling water, it will leap right out with an outraged croak! 

The moral is, employees who are slowly and increasingly exposed to workplace misconduct might simply see this as the status quo – nothing to be concerned about. However, it can sometimes be the newer employee, or somebody moving sections, that jumps out of the ‘boiling pot’ of misconduct – they notice that things are not at all okay in this workplace!

This prevalence and pervasiveness of workplace misconduct can lead to the types of corrupt falls-from-grace that we see all too often in corporate culture.
3. Processes for reporting: “Who should I tell?”
If we take both of these difficulties – the threat to an employee’s job and the insidious subtlety of misconduct – then add a hidden or non-existent process for reporting misconduct, then the likelihood of misconduct being effectively dealt with in the workplace might well reduce to zero.

A clear, transparent and preferably anonymous process through which employees can take their concerns is vital. They should not need to wade through HR documentation hoping to find the right person or phone number. At induction, an ethical culture should be championed and workers trained on signs of early potential misconduct. The best and most genuine processes will also encourage employees to approach appropriate external experts in situations where they believe that there is nobody internally with whom they can speak openly.

At Wise, we provide a whistleblower hotline service that enables employees at all levels of an organisation to speak freely and openly with our experts about suspected misconduct in the workplace. 

With the well-reported damage that can be done to workplaces via misconduct and corruption, it benefits everybody in the long run if the ‘3P threats’ leading to misconduct can be dealt with professionally, quickly and effectively.

Speak with a professional confidentially today if you are concerned about misconduct in your workplace here on the Whistleblower Hotline.

The Depressed Worker: Lesser-Known Aspects of Mental Illness

Harriet Witchell - Monday, October 17, 2016

We understand that for busy employers, time and energy are definitely limited resources. Regularly spread thin by the demands of customers, suppliers and employees, it can certainly be difficult to notice the finer goings-on of the everyday workplace. 

For this reason, human resource issues such as depression and other mental illnesses in the workplace can sometimes be difficult to spot. Add to this the clichés that attach to how depression ‘looks’ and employers could find themselves left with a staff problem that snowballs over time. After dispelling some of the myths about employee depression, we examine some lesser-known features of this and other challenging illnesses

‘Always sad’ and other misconceptions of depression

One of the key problems with the word ‘depression’ is that it has been co-opted into describing a range of non-medical human experiences. From bored to grieving to heart-broken, people often describe themselves and others as being “so depressed!” 

This is not to say that being sad, crying or appearing forlorn are not cause for concern to an employer. And if the worker who is ‘always sad’ begins to show other signs of depression – or appears unable to shake the melancholy - then employers might do well to privately and sensitively check in with the worker. 
But generally - it’s just not a simple matter of ‘sadness’.
Lesser-known aspects of depression
One group of depressive symptoms reflects the deeply physiological nature of this unforgiving illness. Unlike emotions, these symptoms are tied to the way the clinically-depressed brain begins to alter physical and mental functioning. Outward signs can include a disturbed appetite, concentration difficulties, fatigue, loss of interest in activities, a slowing or speeding of physical movement and/or sleep disturbance. Thus, a clinically depressed worker might exhibit any number of uncharacteristic behaviours. Window-gazing, forgetting crucial meetings or technical details, dozing at lunch, talking faster and louder than usual and/ or rapidly losing weight in a short period of time are just some of the many and varied manifestations of true depression.
What is uncharacteristic?
It is well-known that employers need to look out for persisting illness across at least two weeks to be sure that depression is a likely reality for the worker in question. But how many of us simply look for typical sadness? As we can already see, the physiological changes wrought by the illness are such that employers might well be missing key information about their workforce. One key observation is unusual change. 

When your usually ‘gun’ salesperson continuously forgets to take crucial projections with them or can’t find the words to explain to customers the benefits of a core product – then depression’s feature of lost concentration might be an insidious cause. If your usual early bird is not only unable to catch the worm, but in fact has spent weeks slumping into their chair at 10am each morning, then physiological sleep disturbance and fatigue might be flowing from a typical clinical depression.
Other unforgiving illnesses
There is so much crucial information to get our heads around when it comes to supporting workers with mental illness. Another huge thief of health and productivity in Australia is clinical anxiety. This too comes with its fair share of clichés around simply being ‘worried’ or ‘nervous’. Once more, deeper physiological factors can be at play with anxiety than might first meet the eyes. Fast speech, irritability, bolting from rooms and failing to meet deadlines are just some of the troubling symptoms facing those with one of the clinical anxiety disorders.
Knowledge is power
Becoming a workplace knowledge-base and champion of mental health is a proven way for employers to engage and retain loyal workers. And by understanding that troubling behaviours are stemming from a diagnosable illness, employers are much less likely to blame laziness or selfishness for a worker’s underperformance. 

Without this crucial knowledge, the danger of harassment or discrimination claims being made by the mentally ill worker can loom on the horizon. Before things escalate, contact a professional in these areas to help you investigate the mental health ‘climate’ of your workplace.

In getting to know the more subtle and damaging aspects of depression, anxiety and other employee illnesses, employers can identify and help their workers before a small health challenge grows into a complex workplace difficulty.

You can also speak with a professional confidentially on the new Whistleblower Hotline service.

Can Workplace Corruption be Stopped?

Harriet Witchell - Tuesday, October 11, 2016

By Andrew Hedges

Can workplace corruption be halted?
Is there a way to stop workplace corruption from mushrooming or thriving? It obviously has to trickle from the top down, so managers and supervisors need to be made aware of their role in changing the culture. 

If there is a real desire to tackle workplace corruption, the culture of silence needs to be openly addressed, broken and re-set – and instead management needs to encourage and reward individuals who say something when it needs to be said. 

This is especially relevant in relation to singling out unhealthy practices which would widely be regarded as inappropriate in workplace cultures where open, honest, upfront and productive collaboration between the existing “in” group and other workers, including newcomers, is welcomed and encouraged. 

Introducing preventative measures

As there is a fine line between bullying and corrupt conduct, it is vital that companies wanting change introduce a number of preventative measures to deal with both problems. Studies have shown that workplaces which have positive measures, where there is open communication, workers work well together and respect each other, it is harder for a bully to ensconce themselves and intimidate others. 

Also workplaces that encourage an “examining the foundations” approach by supporting employees to participate in systemic workplace improvements which are clearly defined and well understood by the staff, have often developed an effective means of preventing and detecting corruption. 

So what else can be done? Employers can step up and put in place practices that work towards identifying and limiting, if not eliminating, corrupt conduct in the workplace. 

Breaking down entrenched systems

Steps that would help breakdown entrenched illegal workplace systems include:
  • Knowing what exactly workplace corruption is; 
  • Having appropriate and clear workplace complaint systems which are promoted or known to employees; 
  • Ensuring that there are structured levels of accountability within the organisation so that no one person or group is made responsible for critical tasks;
  • Having sound internal reporting systems; 
  • Putting in place complaint and grievance procedures that are correctly followed; 
  • Having more than one person in charge of tasks where corruption can easily occur (such as procurement supplier) and make sure the management team is in the same building as its employees. If that is not possible, introduce a system of regular random visits and checks. 

It is also worth noting that corruption is not a fixed thing, it is constantly changing and evolving. Therefore it is necessary to put systems in place that check workplace safeguards regularly and determine they are continuing to be effective. This is one of the only ways to try and eliminate “in” groups and a culture of silence. 
Why training is important
Incorporating training in the workplace can be a powerful tool for change.The Certificate IV in Government Fraud Control course is a national qualification tailored to workplace investigators who want to work in government and employees who want to be promoted within their departments. The course covers areas such as: 
  • identifying fraud and corruption; 
  • carrying out risk assessments; 
  • how to conduct investigations in such matters

While it is not often spoken about, worker corruption and dishonest conduct in the public sector is a common and widespread problem though it is hard to pinpoint, identify and report on. While many employees may see conduct they know is not legal or appropriate they may keep quiet for fear of retribution or being shut out by their co-workers. 
Breaking that cycle is hard. Managers need to be trained to present themselves as role models to their staff. Regular training of all employees on bullying issues also reminds everyone about what conduct is acceptable, and reinforces the message that bullying is not tolerated. 

The role of the whistle blower remains important. An employee wanting to expose corruption may end up being the last resort to trying to getting it stopped or changing the culture, especially if it is ingrained within the workplace.

While there is legislation in place in Australia that allows employees to report corruption via a whistleblowing hotline without fear of retaliation or reprisal, there are recent reports that suggest it is still very difficult for whistleblowers to come forward without there being a backlash. 

Some politicians are now calling for stronger whistle blowing laws to encourage reporting of corporate corruption while ensuring that individuals are protected and not victimised for speaking out.  As the corrupt workplace culture is addressed, reviewed, disassembled and new, open and constructive systems put in place, workplace corruption can be stopped though it is unlikely to happen overnight. 

Find out more about workplace corruption in this free Whitepaper download

Corruption and misconduct are often hard to detect without the assistance of employees. A well supported confidential hotline is an essential component of your risk management strategy. Research how our hotline service can assist.


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