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What’s your Whistleblower policy?

By Steve Marsten

Running a business is hard enough without distractions however one thing that often provides anxiety to business operators or even non-profit organisations is dealing with the whistleblower. Firstly, know what a whistleblower is – it is taken to mean a person associated with your business or organisation – could be a board member, manager, employee, contractor or volunteer – who reports known or reasonably suspected misconduct from within. Disclosure can sometimes be anonymous or open.

One Australian Research company found that tip offs from whistleblowers were the most effective way in uncovering fraud within non-profit organisations. This had the impact of those organisations strengthening their internal controls and working closer with their external auditors.

It can be a different story in business. Some business owners don’t want to face up to the issues raised by whistleblowers because of the costs or the tying up of resources to deal with the problem raised. But what’s better – knowing you have a problem within your organisation or turning a blind eye to the matter because it’s “only a little bit unsafe” or “it’s only a little bit illegal” or “it’s a little bit unethical” or simply things are just not transparent.

Often management will take the aggressive approach because they know that a problem exists, and they realise that they have little or no defense, so they tend to denounce the whistleblower without actually facing up to the real issue that is being raised.

It takes a very brave person who seeks to raise issues of ethical or integrity against management or even fellow employees. And it also takes a strong leader of the organisation or business to take time out to listen to a whistleblowers concern. I think it is imperative to acknowledge that no one runs a perfect business. There are just too many moving parts to be perfect and everything needs to continually be tweaked.

The way we get this type of policy right is the culture that’s adopted and exhibited from the top. To some extent whistleblowing is a sign of systemic failure within the processes of the organisation. Whistleblowing policies – while a good start, are not a stand-alone solution. Management needs to establish a connection with their workforce and/or an outlet so that staff have the ability in a supportive environment to comment on policies, processes and actions by all persons associated with the organisation without fear of repercussions. This is often facilitated by a team strategy day either once or twice a year that goes through all issues with the organisation and highlights improvements. Management and staff in the same room where all employees are encouraged to speak. This keeps management and staff connected to the wider goals of the organisation.

For more information regarding your business strategy – contact the team at Appleby Chartered Accountants on 07 3876 6211.

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