In our increasingly polarised society, there’s a growing need for employers to create safer and more inclusive working environments for their people.
Listen to our webinar and find out how your organisation can truly champion employee voice and raise awareness of a variety of speak up and whistleblowing options.
Our panel of experts include:
- Andrew Pepper Parsons, Director of Policy and Communications, Protect
- Rachael Saunders, Deputy Director, Institute of Business Ethics
- Katherine Bradshaw, National Lead for Communications and Engagement, National Guardian’s Office
- Tina Russell, Professional Conduct and Ethics Lead, CIPD
Chair Katie Jacobs, Senior Stakeholder Lead, CIPD
Katie Jacobs: Afternoon everybody, I'm going to get started. Welcome to this CIPD webinar. My name is Katie Jacobs and I'm going to be guiding you through the next hour as we discuss a very important topic, how we as employers can create safe cultures where people feel enabled and encouraged to speak up.
Now, today I don't know if you're aware, but it is Global Ethics Day, so there can hardly be a better time to be talking about creating a speak up culture and encouraging more openness to discussions around ethical issues. Joining me to talk about this sensitive and really important topic, I've got a panel of brilliant experts. I will quickly introduce them. First of all, we've got Tina Russell. Tina is Professional Conduct and Ethics Lead at the CIPD. I've also got Andrew Pepper-Parsons, Director of Policy and Communications for Protect. Katherine Bradshaw, National Lead for Communications and Engagement at the National Guardian's Office. And last but not least, Rachel Saunders, Deputy Director for the Institute of Business Ethics. Thank you all so much for giving up your time to share your insights with us today.
Now, before we get into the topic, let me just take you through some quick housekeeping. But while we do that, I think my colleague is going to flush up a few polls so we can try and make this a little bit more interactive to take you through the stuff you need to know for the session.
First thing to be aware of is the session is being recorded. That means it will be available on demand via the webinar section of the CIPD website. And you will also be able to access all of our previous webinars there, as well as find out about upcoming ones. You'll also be able to download the slides. So those will be available for you later. And we'll also be providing links to a range of CIPD resources on this topic. If you would like to submit questions to our panel, and please do, because you've got a panel of brilliant experts here, please can I ask you to type it into the Q&A box, not the chat box, because we won't be monitoring the chat box that closely. But do feel free to use the chat box if you want to network with other attendees or to just share your views.
CIPD members can access individual legal advice via our HR-informed helpline, which is available to you 24-7. Given the kind of sensitivity of the topic we're talking about today, we obviously can't get into any highly specific situations here, but we do have helplines available for you if you need any kind of specific advice. On that, I also want to flag the CIPD whistleblowing helpline where members can access free advice on handling whistleblowing concerns. And I think the final relevant benefit for you to be aware of is our wellbeing hub and helpline, which is available for members in the UK and Ireland. You can use this to access free help and support by telephone or online consultations with qualified therapists provided by Health Assured. It's really relevant to this topic, which can be a really, kind of stressful one for HR professionals, putting us at risk of things like moral injury. So do take care of yourself when dealing with these issues.
So on to the topic at hand, we live in an increasingly polarised society, something that requires more than ever employers to create safe and inclusive working environments for their people. But sadly, this is not always a given, and you don't need to look too far to find examples of attention grabbing, shocking headlines of where it can go so wrong in a range of organisations. And when things go wrong with ethics and culture, it becomes more than personally damaging. It can destroy organisational reputations as well as individual lives. To avoid such cultural disasters, it's critical that organisations genuinely champion employee voice, implementing and raising awareness of a range of speak up and whistleblowing options. And beyond those policies and procedures, HR has a really, really important role to play in building a culture where everyone, wherever they sit in the hierarchy, feels able to talk openly about ethical issues.
During this session, we're going to talk about how exactly to go about building that culture, as well as highlight the role of the people profession and the CIPD in supporting you all to do so. And we're going to discuss compliance issues such as keeping on the right side of the new EU whistleblower directive.
In terms of running order, first up, we're going to hear from Tina, who will set a bit more CIPD and people profession context. Then we're going to hear from Andrew a bit more around barriers and compliance that we need to be aware of. Then Katherine will cover understanding whistleblowing and how organisations should respond. And finally, we'll hear from Rachel on some of the consequences of mismanagement and the importance of taking a human approach. And after all of that, we will take as many questions as we can. But please do get them in throughout. Don't ask them all in the last five minutes. But that's enough for me for now. I am going to hand over to Tina to kick us off. Thanks, Tina.
Tina Russell: Thank you so much, Katie. And I'm so delighted to see as many people as we have on this webinar. Thank you so much for making the time and particularly thanks to the panel. Obviously, with Global Ethics Day, we have a real solid link into whistleblowing and the areas that touch on ethics there. My role at the CIPD is that I manage the Code of Conduct. And so, I deal with complaints about members. We have 160,000 members and all members are obliged to adhere to our Code of Conduct and Ethics. And for those of you that don't know, a new code was launched the first of January this year. And when we were consulting on the development of the new code, we consulted very widely in terms of people who are working with the HR profession in terms of what are the areas that they felt there was a gap. And speak up and whistleblowing was definitely one of those topics. So, we actually ended up incorporating two clauses into the new code that was launched in January. And that gives you how seriously the CIPD take HR's responsibility in this area.
And those obligations were twofold. So, it was around how people are treated when they do speak up. And I know that we'll be getting into that later as well. But also, actually, your obligation as a professional to speak up when you do see unethical practice. So going to the treatment of employees, one of the things that's really important, and we've got a representative here on the panel of an agency that would take on whistleblowing for organisations who've outsourced it. And that may be an approach that is taken by a number of organisations, but it doesn't devolve HR's responsibility in this area. They're still very much is a place for looking at the welfare of those who have reported. And so, HR shouldn't be washing their hands of this if it's moved away from the HR function, or it falls under a different department. And I see from the poll where we asked who in the organisation is responsible for whistleblowing in your organisation, we've got 65% showing as HR. But we know that we also have organisations where it sits in legal or compliance or ethics and compliance came out as the next highest one, 15%. So, the HR responsibility really comes into that welfare check with those who reported six months in, 12 months in. How are they getting on? Have they felt any retaliation? Have there been any repercussions?
And finally, just to kind of wrap up from the CIPD perspective, we know, of course, that whistleblowing being a form of risk management and a control mechanism is absolutely vital in terms of having those, you know, checking points. We know that there's been failures. So, for example, the Wakefield City Council who fired six employees who had whistle blown and that ended up costing them over a million pounds in settlement from tribunals. So, you know, looking, you know, considering Global Ethics Day and looking at whistleblowing with an ethical lens, what we need to be looking at is the wider piece. So, of course, there's the policies and the codes, but the wider piece in terms of the impact on the culture, the impact in the organisation in not covering up dysfunctional behaviour, actually addressing institutional inefficiency. And of course, we want to get to that nirvana, a place where ethics is weaved all through what we do. But to get there, we need to establish that unethical conduct will be called out and that action will be taken. And that final point, action will be taken, is where in my experience and certainly with the work that I do at the CIPD, we've still got a lot of work to do, not just in the profession, but in business generally. And so those are some key points we may be happy to bring in some more later.
KJ: Thank you so much, Tina, for going through that so clearly. I see some people having problems accessing the Q&A. I'm sure behind the scenes that my colleagues are trying to figure that out, but I am keeping an eye on the chat. So do put questions in there if you have it.
Time to hear from Andrew. Over to you, Andrew.
Andrew Pepper Parsons: Hello, everybody. And yes, a pleasure to speak to you on World Ethics Day. And yeah, I work for Protect, the whistleblowing charity. So, those that aren't aware, we spent celebrating our 30th anniversary this year. But Protect provides free legal advice to all whistleblowers from any sector or industry. And we can cover both, the raising of public interest concerns. So, where someone has witnessed wrongdoing, malpractice, something going wrong in their workplace. We can also give advice on people's legal rights. So, the legal protection that exists in the UK. So, we're quite different from, say, a law firm that would focus really on someone's legal rights. We're really here to kind of help people raise those public interest concerns themselves. And those experiences, we take around up to 3000 calls a year. Those experiences feed into the work that I do around research and policy and sort of campaigning activities. But also, something that which is really relevant, I think, for this discussion is that we train and consult with organisations. So, we have both that from my point of view as sort of head of the sort of research and the policy activities. That's really valuable to have that dialogue with employers. But it's how we fund ourselves as an organisation. So, it's kind of key. That's kind of where we're coming at it from both that from that whistleblower's point of view and the employer. So, if we go on to the next slide.
Yeah, I've been asked really, and I think it's really key to talk about the barriers that we see for whistleblowers when they want to speak up and give us an idea of maybe some of the things that many people in this audience will be aware of, some of the challenges within the organisation. But I wanted to start off really with awareness. So, our research has found by YouGov survey that only 34% of workers would know how to raise a whistleblowing concern if they came across it in their workplace. And that kind of does emphasise that I think there is still a gap between maybe the sort of aspirations of whistleblowing arrangements and policies and really the knowledge that workers have. And from our work with organisations, we have a benchmarking toolkit that employers can use. That is an area where employers can struggle with that sort of awareness we're raising amongst their workers and that kind of constant kind of working as well. And a stat I haven't included here as well, just to emphasise this, is only 43% of workers are aware that their employer has a whistleblowing policy. So, again, it kind of emphasises this point that the awareness around the sort of whether it's legal rights, there's a similar stat which is quite low around that as well from the same survey work, just shows that workers aren't always aware of the systems that exist if they do come across something. And then moving on to some of the sort of barriers as well that are probably really obvious, but it is worth kind of bearing in mind. And these two stats come from our advice line. So, what callers have, what whistleblowers have kind of interacted with at their workplace is that 67% of whistleblowers calling us for advice to protect say, that they were victimised, dismissed or resigned after raising their concern. And so, that kind of fear of retaliation also is mirrored in YouGov surveys, the work that we've done where people, where we ask people to identify a barrier that might prevent them from raising whistleblowing concerns. And that fear of retaliation can really be key.
And the final point is fear that nothing will change. And that's the flip side. So, 30 to 40% of whistleblowers calling Protect said that they felt their concern was ignored. So, the public interest issue itself was ignored by their employer.
I probably just want to emphasise that doesn't necessarily mean from our data that the concern hasn't been dealt with. It may be a communication issue. So, feedback is probably something that might come up in the questions, but, you know, how much you give to workers. But that's a really key point to kind of make sure that whistleblower doesn't feel isolated. But it can also be the fact that I think one of the issues that I see in terms of the debate around whistleblowing is that there is a lot of focus on encouraging people to come forward. And I think that is a constant message that needs to be reiterated. But I don't know if we're in a space where employers are, across all sectors, are able or willing to listen to whistleblowers and act on the concerns that they're raising or communicate where maybe the whistleblower has got the concern wrong, because at the end of the day, whistleblowers are witnesses. And that's the way really to think about those members of staff. They've seen something that concerns them.
I just wanted to also touch on why now. So, why? So, sorry, if we skip on to the next slide, that's probably a better place. Yeah, I was also asked to talk about the EU directive on whistleblowing and give an idea of why it's more advanced than the UK sort of approach to whistleblowing protection. And I think I'd cover here why now, why we as an organisation are talking about these, the sort of need for legal change. And I think really, I think Tina's kind of touched on it, the kind of cost and number of scandals, whether it's the CBI or something as awful as the Lucy Letby case. It does show, I think when these scandals come up time and time again, that there's a whistleblowing analysis, which kind of comes in two forms, which is there were staff that knew the issues in the workplace and raised it and were ignored for whatever reason or victimised. Or there's the flip side, which is why weren't workers coming forward? Because you can guarantee, I bet in most of those scandals, somebody knew something amongst the workforce before that kind of disaster or particular situation developed into something more serious. And I just want to, so going back to the directive, why is that really key?
So, the first point is, I think just to cover very quickly is that the whistleblowing law in the UK is very old. It's 25 years old. It hasn't really been looked at in any kind of serious kind of way. So, there have been some reforms that have been welcome. But one of the key issues is that the workplace has changed. Things like the gig economy means that not all workers are covered by the Act. And that's something that the directive has looked at. So, things like job applicants, trustees, volunteers, the gig economy itself, that is covered by the directive. And currently, you know, there are only a few nations that haven't transposed that particular directive into their national law. But the key, the two key points, I think, which again, changes really in terms of the directive, which doesn't exist in the UK, is that there's legal requirements on organisations of 50 or more staff or with a turnover of 10 million to have not just a whistleblowing policy, but to have set standards in terms of how a time frame to respond to concerns and that type of thing. So, requirements on organisations to have certain things in place, which is absent from the current legal protection, that's really been left to regulators and different sectors. And the same also applies to regulators. A key part of whistleblowing is that external disclosure of regulators.
There's no requirement on them to have certain things in place either, even though there's prescribed persons sort of list of regulators within the Act that gives the whistleblower more protection, that's silent in terms of what they should have in place. So, I think one of the things I would really like to see is the extension of that kind of idea that employers and regulators should be doing more around whistleblowing and be really leaders in this kind of area. And it's relevant because the government is currently reviewing the whistleblowing legislation. So, there is appetite for reform. They're looking at all things on the table, but they're looking at very much in the employment context. And also, I don't know if other people have seen from last week, but Emily Thornberry also announced as part of the Labour Party's opposition, as the Labour Party conference, that they were looking at whistleblowing in the confines of sexual harassment, discrimination, bullying, making sure those whistleblowers are protected. So, we are at a time potentially where I think there's a real kind of clamour really for change in this area. And I hope that kind of translates into sort of policy activities that my charity is involved with. So, if I skip on to the last slide, because I'm probably coming up to my time, I also wanted to outline just what effective whistleblowing arrangements look like. So, when we talk about legal standards, what are we talking about? What does a good organisation have in place?
So, I think the key thing to remember about regulation and to counter the idea that it's kind of adding more burdens on businesses is that I think good organisations are doing these things already. So, it's not just about having a policy, though that's really important, a clear kind of statement of intent. But you have buy-in from senior management, that managers are trained, including investigators. And I think the key thing I want to emphasise here is the assessment. So, staff surveys to assess kind of awareness, to kind of counteract that kind of lack of knowledge, but also having at board level a kind of review process where you're looking at cases that have come through, situations where concerns haven't been dealt with properly to make sure that the system is working at a kind of day-to-day level, really. And that kind of that will interact and eradicate those kind of operational issues that could really undo a whistleblowing culture. So, where people have been ignored or been victimised, that can actually have a dampening effect across the organisation, because it may mean that other whistleblowers don't come forward in the future. And finally, sort of sharing good practice, communicating those good stories within the confines of confidentiality. So, which is a challenge, but employers are often sitting on very good stories that they can communicate to their employer, their employees, sorry. So that's what I'd like to cover.
KJ: Thank you so much, Andrew. Quite a few people have been asking, A, how do they access the toolkit that you mentioned? And also, any more information on the survey you mentioned, including kind of how many respondents and the link to that. Maybe you can pop some links in the chat.
APP: Yes I’ll put some links in the chat.
KJ: Okay, and I am keeping an eye on the questions that are coming in on the chat. I'm copying and pasting them into a document. So, I will ask them as many as I can. Katherine, your turn.
Katherine Bradshaw: Thanks, Katie. Yes. Hello. My name is Katherine Bradshaw. I'm the national lead for communications and engagement at the National Guardian's office. And it's great to see so many HR professionals here on the call to a fabulous topic for Global Ethics Day as being able to speak up, have that psychological safety, I believe, is a key indicator of what is a healthy ethical culture. And I've been working in communications for about 25 years, as you can probably tell by my grey hair. And I've been writing about ethical values and foster and speak up culture for about 15 of those. So, it's a subject I'm really passionate about. And that's because when things go wrong, we need to make sure that lessons are learned and things are improved so that they don't happen again. And if we think something might go wrong, it's important that we all feel able to speak up so that potential harm can be prevented. And then even when things are really good, but could be even better, we should feel able to speak up and say something. And we should expect that our suggestions listened to and used as an opportunity for improvement. And there's a great question in the chat. What's the difference between whistleblowing and speaking up? So, if we could move on to the next slide, please, Kristian.
Now, as HR professionals, it's really important that you understand the law and you follow due process and policy. But speaking up is all of these things, whether that's a staff survey response, an improvement suggestion, making a complaint, raising a concern or taking out a grievance. And when it comes to things like thinking about whether or not someone's made a qualifying disclosure, we can get bogged down in whether or not this person would be protected according to the law and forget that the important thing is what have they told us and what actions need to be taken as a result of the information that they've given us. And I think if we can take out that kind of feeling that I need to check whether or not this a protected disclosure. Is covered by the law? We can make access more quickly the information that's being provided by the person speaking up and make sure that harm is prevented. Next slide, please.
So, as I said, I work for the National Guardian for the NHS, who leads a network of freedom to speak up guardians who work in their organisations throughout health care in England to support workers to speak up. And I've outlined here kind of the principles behind their role. It was a recommendation as part of a freedom to speak up review by Sir Robert Francis, which he conducted following inquiries into tragedies across the NHS where found that people did know, as Andy said, what was going on, but they were too scared to speak up or if they did speak up, they were bullied and harassed and their concerns were ignored. And he found that health care workers really wanted to do a great job and they wanted to speak up, but they weren't being listened to when they did. So, he recommended this role of a freedom to speak up guardian in every trust, hospital trust. But now that spreads throughout the health care sector in England.
And guardians are there, Tina said outsourced, they're not quite outsourced in that they're employed by their organisation and they provide that additional channel for speaking up if you tried or if you're nervous of doing it by the usual ways. And they thank people and they help them decide on next steps and they may escalate the matter if someone's too afraid to do it themselves. And the important point that Andy was saying, they ensure that action is taken and they feed back to the worker what's happening about their concern, because many times you hear that people feel they can't speak up. They don't speak up because they think, well, nothing's changed. I've said this five million times, nothing ever happens. And so, they also ask how the process was for the person when they closed the case.
And then they have this proactive side and they raise awareness of speaking up. And my banner behind me, that's because it's speak up month for us in the NHS. So, we're raising awareness and talking about the barriers to speaking up all throughout the health care. And then they triangulate that data. They work in partnership. If you work in health, they'll be working, they'll work in partnership with their HR teams and others and they share themes to senior leaders so that information can be used for learning and improvement and can identify these barriers, address them and improve the culture. And at the time when guardians were first being implemented in 2016, there was quite a lot of work being done about speaking up throughout different organisations. The Financial Conduct Authority, they implemented the whistleblowers champion. There were social movements like Me Too and Black Lives Matter, which were just becoming more vocal. And I feel like there's a beginning of this social movement where people are more likely to speak up. And so, whistleblowers are less seen as troublemakers. But we're not there yet. There's still a long way to go. And so that's why we're here raising awareness today.
KJ: You've accidentally gone on to mute.
KB: How did I do that? It's amazing. Who knows? Silencing and speaking up.
But we all have a part to play. And this idea that, you know, there's a guardian and they deal with that over there is actually this model of how freedom to speak up. Guardians are expected to respond when someone talks to them. It's a great model for all of us when people are talking to us, because we all have that part to play in fostering an environment where people feel that they can raise anything that's getting in the way of them doing their job, whether we're managers or HR professionals. And as HR professionals, you have that unique place within the organisation where you actually are a touchpoint for everybody as they make their way through their career with you, whether that's even before they're employed at interview to induction and throughout their career as they progress. So, it's really important that you think about the person if somebody's raising something to you and think about their emotions, but also think about what is it they're saying to me and not get bogged down in whether or not it would be covered by any legal definitions if it ended up in the tribunal. Next slide, please.
So, we've developed this training, this speak up, listen up, follow up training, because we realise that speaking up is only one part of the picture. And for speaking up to be effective and for the benefits of listening to employees voice to be realised, we really need to be able to listen up to what they're saying. And this is the role for all of us, whether we're managers or whether we're colleagues. How do we respond when someone speaks up to us? Do we thank them as the speak up guardians are asked to do? Because sometimes it can really take courage to speak up, no matter how confident you are that your concern will be welcomed, it still can be something that's affecting the status quo. So, thank people and try and not to put your own personal feelings in the way of listening to what it is they're saying. And then another click, please, Kristian, because the next part of the puzzle is following up. And when leaders follow up, this promotes a culture where everyone feels that they have a voice and they begin to believe the policy. I'm sure you all have policies that say we welcome your views, we listen to you if you speak up, but actually following up and showing the actions being taken, that's really key to showing that how much employee voice is valued.
And a click, please, Kristian. That's my final bit, which is that this creates this virtual circle. People believe that their voice matters and so they feel enabled to share the gift, the gift of information, which speaking up brings. Because there's a great quote by Megan Rates, who's an academic writing in this space and her book Speak Up I really recommend to you. It's that the silence of missing voices costs careers, relationships and lives. So, if we don't listen to people, the impact could be so extreme, not just on the person raising to us, but to our organisation as well. Thanks, Katie.
KJ: Thanks, Katherine. Love Megan Rates' work. Loads of questions in the in the chat, so we're going to hear from Rachel and then we will go into a discussion. Rachel, over to you.
RS: Brilliant, thank you so much, Katie, and thanks everyone for the opportunity to be here. If we just move on to my first slide, it just says a little bit about the Institute of Business Ethics and who we are. So, we've been around since the mid-1980s and we work with our supporters and with partners to champion the highest standards of ethical behaviour in business. And there are just some examples of what we do and our publications there. If we move on to the next slide.
So, this is some research and the whole report is online, if anyone would like to look at it, but it's research that we run every three years, which is about understanding people's perspectives on ethics at work in a number of countries across the world. And just building on what some of what Andrew already said about why people sometimes do or don't speak up. So, it's fear or futility. So, there's some detail on some of those sources of fear there, the reasons why people might not choose to speak up. So, they might fear that they're going to jeopardise their job. They might lose their job. They don't want to be seen as a troublemaker. They don't want to alienate themselves from colleagues. So, if you're encouraging speak up, then you need to reassure people that those consequences aren't going to happen in your organisation. And then there's futility. So, I didn't believe that the correct action would be taken. I thought it was none of my business. I thought they already knew. So that sense of kind of mistrust, really, in the leadership of the organisation, which leads people to believe that there's no point reporting, nothing's, nothing's, going to happen, nothing's going to be done. So, yeah, so that research, I think, just brings down into a bit more granularity some of the points that have already been made. But hopefully that granularity is useful in terms of thinking about the communications messages you might want to get through your organisation to help deal with some of those barriers around fear and futility that stop some people speaking up. And unfortunately, some of that fear is well founded. So, two fifths employees who spoke up about ethical misconduct said that they did experience retaliation as a result of that. So, you know, there is something very real that we need to tackle and address in organisations. Next slide.
So, this, again, is building on what colleagues have already said, but I would just emphasise that building a speak up culture isn't just about big S, big U speak up or whistleblowing. We need to build a speak up culture in every aspect of what we do, how we treat people, how we manage. It might be something as simple as leading a team meeting or even the conversations that you're having day to day with colleagues. So if somebody raises, so if you are an HR professional or if you're, especially where you're training leaders and managers, something that we train people on a lot is if somebody raises something with you, either an idea that they have, something they might want to change in the organisation, something that might be of concern to them, then listening and really listening and hearing what they've said, maybe repeating it back to make sure that you've understood, you know, making the time to hear what they're choosing to raise with you is absolutely vital. And if you do that on the relatively small things, you know, someone has an idea for how something could be done differently in their team or, you know, they have something they want to say about how to do their role better or whatever it might be. If you do it on the small things, then people are much, much more likely to come to you on the big things.
So having really listened, then, you know, the follow up is absolutely vital. And that could be as simple as, thanks for letting me know about the issue that you raised with me. I'll take that forward and I'll let you know if I need any more information from you. It could be, you know, thanks for your ideas. Actually, you know, that's not going to make it into the work plan this year, but we'll consider it for the future. Whatever it is, just letting people know that you've actually considered their suggestion and that you've addressed it in whatever way is appropriate right through to, you know, recommending that they might want to make a more formal report or, you know, offering them support to take the issue forward. But that follow up is all about building a culture within an organisation where people know that they've been heard, listened to and that their input, thoughts and ideas have been valued. So that if there are then other issues that people want to raise, which are, you know, really significant ethical or compliance issues or, you know, issues which need to go into a more formal kind of whistleblowing process, it means that people have confidence in doing that and that they'll have confidence in the culture of the organisation and the leaders in the organisation that, that input is valued. So, I just really emphasise that this is a way of operating, a way of leading, a way of managing, and it's how you build a speak up culture that means that, you know, serious issues can be dealt with and that people tell you what's really going on so that, you know, you're much better equipped to manage risk in your organisation.
And then just moving on to the last slide. So, I just want to emphasise that this all works within the context of a broader commitment to ethics and building an ethical culture in your organisation. So, you'll see speak up and open culture kind of just over halfway down the middle bit of the elements there. But communicating, you know, the great example that Katherine spoke about of guardians in the NHS is basically a form of ethics ambassador, which is a really important part of communicating and building trust in your organisation and a part of building an ethical culture, you know, communicating, having a code, which has all this set out in it, training people so that they know what the expectations are and where to find the support that they might need. You know, all of this fits together to deliver a consistent ethical culture with the right tone from the top and confidence that decisions are being made in the right way, which means that people can speak up freely, knowing they'll be listened to and that their concerns are addressed. So obviously our focus today is on whistleblowing and speak up. I just want to emphasise that, that's a hugely important part of an overall ethical culture in an organisation. And all of these components work together to mean that, you know, when there are challenges and issues in an organisation, that they can be raised and dealt with in the best way. And that's it for me, I think.
KJ: Thank you, Rachel, and thanks, everybody, for really, really fascinating and informative presentations. So, we have a lot of questions. I'm going to try and group them because there's some themes there, but I will keep my eye on the chat as well. And we have a few questions, particularly around that kind of follow up mechanism that you, Rachel, and you, Katherine, have spoken about, and particularly how you kind of manage that process against the backdrop of needing to preserve anonymity and not give too many details. And a few people have commented that sometimes that means that people who have raised issues do not feel that they have been appropriately dealt with because perhaps the organisation is constrained on how much they are able, how much information they are able to give. So, Katherine, maybe if I come to you on that first, any advice on how you kind of balance those competing tensions?
KB: So, this is actually one of my favourite subjects as a communications person. The National Guardian's office, we've been collecting, we're trying to collect 100 voices stories which are shared with us by people who've spoken up and about the change that happened as a result. And it is really tricky and your organisation probably will be quite nervous about it, but it was appropriate anonymisation, which is easy for me to say. You really can share what happened and the impact of speaking up as had in your organisation. You have to be very careful. You have to have the permission of all of those involved, but you can also do it really simply. And this isn't a health example, but I know one organisation that basically stripped it down to the bare minimum of the concern raised and the action taken. So, there was no identifying factors at all, no team, no, even more about the issue. So, someone spoke up about X and as a result, this changed. And a change doesn't have to be a hiring, a firing, heads rolling. It could be a policy change. We've got 100 voices stories where the concern was investigated and there was nothing wrong, but it highlighted the fact that there was a communication issue, something could be better communicated, for example. So, these don't have to be big examples of big things going wrong, but they can be a great way to show, actually, we welcome this. Just you said we did notice boards, you know, that's speaking up and that's showing the actions taken when you hear from people. So, I could go on about that for ages, but that's some examples I can share with you.
KJ: That's really, really great practical examples there. I mean, Andrew, you mentioned in the survey, and I think Rachel, you had similar findings that one of the reasons that people don't report is that they feel that it won't be effectively dealt with. Andrew, do you have any advice on kind of how you close things out? Somebody's asked, is there a script you should use? How much information can you share?
APP: Yeah, I could go first on that. I think one of the key things about interacting with whistleblowers that I would say is like managing expectations and setting clear boundaries in terms of the relationship that you have with the whistleblower. And I think that comes back to training, making sure that managers and those handling whistleblowing concerns are kind of aware of that relationship. I think it's true to say that all whistleblowers are not the same, right? So, I think there is a popular image that they're quite difficult and persistent, but sometimes they're not. Sometimes whistleblowers want to unburden and send the information and not have that feedback process. So, you'll have a feel for that kind of communication. But I'm kind of dodging around it a little bit in the sense that I think as an organisation, you have to get to a point where you've investigated, there will be things that you can't reveal. Disciplinary is a really obvious example. And I think on the flip side, you can be, if it's a systems issue, if somebody's coming forward and saying there's been a problem with like, you know, the accounting system, or, you know, that there's something that you can give much more detail, give that detail, because I think too many employees kind of hide behind that kind of process or don't want to give that. And I think the other thing to just the final point is that on this kind of, as an organisation, when you get to a point, it's been investigated, you know, there is legal protection for the individual to take their concern to the regulator. That's part of best practice, it's part of people's whistleblowing policies. And that should be communicated. And that might be also a point where you direct them to somewhere like Protect for the whistleblower to get that kind of advice. So, I think organisations need to be quite comfortable with that external disclosure point as well as part of that closing off process. Brilliant. Thank you, Andrew.
KJ: Rachel, do you want to come in on that?
RS: Yeah, two things. One is, I think it's really important to acknowledge the challenge, like it is difficult to give, it can be straightforward. So, you know, if the issue is about a process or a way of working that can be corrected, then absolutely, you know, let people know the action that you've taken. But in those cases where it is harder to share, I think you both need to acknowledge that to the individual and in the organisation more broadly. So, there was one organisation that had a real challenge where they saw their speak up cases going down and they found that that was because people were saying, you know, I didn't get any feedback, you know, I spoke up and I did the right thing and no one told me anything. So, they put some text on the cartons of milk in their canteens saying, we're really sorry, we really appreciate that you've been brave and you've done the right thing and you've made your contribution by speaking up. And often, you know, the results of that are confidential and we can't tell you and we're really sorry that's frustrating, but, you know, please keep telling us.
So that kind of public and quite kind of informal acknowledgement in a context where people could then chat to each other about it was quite powerful, I think, and useful for them and it helped their numbers improve. So that'd be one thing would be to acknowledge it. The other thing is, can you consider, this isn't always possible, especially it depends on the numbers of speak ups or similar reports that you're dealing with, but can you report in aggregate? So even if you can't report back to the individual exactly what happened in their case, can you, on maybe an annual basis, publish something that you can point people to which says, you know, overall, as a result of speak ups this year, you know, this is the action that we've taken, these are the changes that have been made just to reassure that it isn't, you know, an empty black hole, that things really are happening and that can help build confidence.
KJ: And Rachel, just a kind of very small follow up question, because on the same topic, I'll just stick with you, Rachel. Should you be following up on unfounded accusations or where somebody's spoken up and it's been investigated, but it was found not to have basis in much fact?
RS: In what sense follow up? Yeah, so absolutely. So, you know, I mean, just letting, as far as you can to say to the individual, I think there's, you know, different examples, but assuming that somebody's reported something, but it just hasn't been possible to prove it.
On the one hand, that doesn't mean that it's not an issue. It just means that you haven't been able to prove it. So, you know, it's really important to look at ways in which you can make, you know, appropriate people aware of that, that there might be something that they want to address. But absolutely, you know, if you go back to the report, you know, we really appreciate that, you know, you shared this information. We haven't been able to prove it at this point. One really good example of that might be a sexual harassment case, actually. So it might be that, you know, maybe the reporter withdrew partway through the process because that's a really challenging thing to live through. Or it might be that, you know, sufficient evidence just wasn't there to take forward. But if you have, it could be one, it could be more than one report, even if you haven't substantiated it, the chances are there's something going on that the organisation can look to address in a different way.
KJ: Thank you. Tina, I'm going to come to you. I saw you had your hand up. I want to ask you another question at the same time, if that's OK. So, we've got two for the price of one. So, we've got a few questions about how to deal with resistant leadership and particularly from if you're in HR, what's your responsibility in kind of creating that kind of culture where leaders are prepared to hear issues and to create that kind of culture?
TR: Thank you. And, you know, it ties into what I wanted to pick up on with what Rachel was saying. And I can see in the chat that there's some questions about, you know, the corporate governance of this. And we should be expecting trustees of organisations and shareholders to have an interest in what an organisation is doing to hear the concerns and what they're doing to address it. So, you know, I think this will be the tail wagging the dog at one point, because actually senior leadership will be answerable to their boards and to their trustees about this. We've got organisations that are moving to reporting in annual reports, not as anywhere near where we should be. And, you know, that's something I don't know if we've got stats on that anywhere or any research. But, you know, we should be getting to a place where people are acknowledging the things that have been reported. And, you know, yes, it's obviously great to talk about those good news stories. But, you know, let's actually internally at least talk about the, you know, where things have been highlighted and redress has been made and things have been repaired. And I certainly think from, you know, my perspective, looking at our profession and getting the senior leadership engaged, you know, this isn't something that we have an option of turning our backs on. We need to be addressing the awareness and the education piece, not just at the induction stage, but throughout people's tenure in an organisation, because actually so many people are missed from this. You know, particularly, you know, in an induction, it's just one of a thousand things that you might be hearing. And we need to reinforce this platform and, you know, remind staff that it's available. But then we also need to be making sure that this is extended to people that are not just permanent employees. So short term contracts, you know, contractors and so on, temporary staff, they should be having access to this. And why do the senior leaders need to engage? Well, because we can be cost saving here. We can be heading things off, becoming a bigger problem. We can be saving the reputation of the organisation and stopping things getting to that scandal point, which will ultimately affect the bottom line.
KJ: Yeah, thank you, Tina. I've dropped into the chatter report that CIPD did recently looking at workforce reporting. It covers the whole kind of gamut of people reporting, but I think there's some stuff in there about whistleblowing. I've got a couple of questions. I'll put this to you, Katherine, about how you encourage people to make things formal. So, if people are coming and expressing concerns and you feel that should be kind of perhaps go into a more formal complaint, how can HR, I guess, create that trust or encourage people to do that? Or should they?
TR: That's a really tricky one, isn't it, actually, because obviously it depends on the nature of concern and the person's involvement in the concern and what are the barriers that are stopping them wanting to make it formal. My personal view is that if you've heard something, then to explore with that person how they might like it resolved. And so, to say if you're not going to raise it, would you like me to raise it on your behalf? Or would you, are there other people who are also witnesses? Because Andrew's point that whistleblowers are witnesses is a really key one here. Is there witnesses to something? Are there other witnesses who could all come together to raise something? It's the information that they're telling you that's important here. And are you able to investigate anonymous reporting? Because anonymous reporting may be the most important reporting that you receive, but it may also be telling you something about the level of trust in your organisation or issues within that department, for example, where the person's raising it. So, I would say try focus on the information, focus on the person talking to you and explore with them what are the barriers for them raising it and how you might be able to resolve it for them without their involvement.
KJ: Thank you. I think that leads us on to another nice question. This was the very first question asked, so I almost missed it. It's in my document, which is how do we kind of make this a more human centric experience rather than it being something really, really daunting? I'm sure you've all got thoughts on that. Rachel, I'll come to you first.
RS: I think part of the challenge of this is that it is really hard, you know, that very often people, you know, start to raise an issue and they feel like they're raising it in a dialogue between themselves and the person they've chosen to speak to. And that actually quite quickly things can become, it can feel quite formal and structured and not human, I suppose, is the risk. So, I think part of it is about preparing people for that and making sure that support's available to them. So, either, you know, you as the HR professional or the compliance professional or whoever is responsible for that, you know, doing your best to maintain that dialogue and to offer that support and to manage people's expectations and to give them as much clarity as you can about what's going to happen. So many organisations will have maybe a bit of a flow chart diagram to say to people, you know, this is what's likely to happen at each stage of this process. So, whether it's the initial reporting or, you know, once you get into potentially an investigation process. So, the maximum possible transparency and minimising surprises for people in terms of what's likely to happen next. There should always be other support available for people. So, you're encouraging people to think about, you know, who's available for them to speak to. Do they want to use something like an employer assistance programme? Is there a trade union or something like that that they can speak to? But I think it's hard to get away from the fact that people are likely to feel very strongly, very emotional and it can feel very, very personal and that preparing them for that, supporting them through it, being as transparent as possible and giving as much information as you can and managing expectations is really important.
KJ: And that's a transparency piece is coming through so clearly, but the flip side of that is we've had a couple of questions about use of settlements and NDAs and what's in place. Somebody's asked what's in place to prevent organisations issuing NDAs and paying settlements to staff dismissed for safeguarding misconduct, gross misconduct, or is this an ethical rather than a legal requirement? I mean, Andrew, any thoughts on use of these kind of tools?
APP: Yeah, yeah, it's been in the news a lot and quite rightly so, because I think they have been, they've been quite heavily abused in the past. If you think of the Zelda Perkins situation where, you know, that agreement that she had with Harvey Reinstein is now recognised as completely unacceptable. She wasn't, for example, allowed to go to the police or to medical experts in terms of the sort of the attempted rape that happened. But I think, I think there is, the irony is, I suppose, is that there is quite strong legal protection for agreements that prevent somebody from raising concerns. It's existed in common law. You can't use a legal agreement to hide iniquity, wrongdoing, and that's reflected in the Public Interest Disclosure Act. So, the problem is, it goes back to my first point about the barriers is the awareness. People aren't really aware of their legal rights and they're not aware of that legal protection. And if you're in a particularly complicated settlement agreement, it's not always covered by the legal advice.
So, we could make the wording of the Act a lot stronger. That's one of the provisions that we put forward to government, who have talked about kind of going down this path of looking at the sort of the laws that exist around settlement agreements and making that a lot tougher. A legal requirement on lawyers to provide advice, a situation on what can and can't be raised, including a schedule, because the real issue, I think, is that in practice it works. In practice, it's quite difficult to articulate or figure out exactly what you can and can't speak about. What is an employment issue which is being settled in the settlement arrangement? What's something you can maybe take to a regulator or to the police or to maybe a journalist? And I think it becomes quite difficult when, as we've seen quite rightly, the workplace culture has become much more of a whistleblowing issue rather than being seen as a traditional HR issue. So that's the challenge. And it's really, I think, there are ways of kind of... I wouldn't support banning the non-disclosure agreements. I think they can benefit whistleblowers. It is a case-by-case basis. But yeah, we can have a lot clearer guidance on what the lawyers should be doing in that situation, legal advice being provided, that type of thing. I think that support mechanism is really key.
KJ: And Tina, I mean, HR can often find themselves a bit in the middle of like protecting the organisation, protecting the individual. Any advice for navigating that kind of situation?
TR: Yes, certainly. I would ask that we look at what is given as a contribution towards seeking legal advice. So quite often people entering into agreements are given a nominal amount, and typically that will purchase an hour, maybe two hours of legal advice, which is not enough. You know, people need to understand the consequences of the agreement that they're signing and the restrictions afterwards. I did look into this roundabout, the Me-Too movement, and did a few roundtables with senior HR leaders. And everyone that I asked had not pursued people when they had been in breach of their agreement. And that tends to be the case when I still meet with HR practitioners to this day. So, you know, is it worth the paper that it's written on? But actually, let's head that off in the first place. And let's be really clear with employees. And I think HR can do that. They don't necessarily need to leave it to the lawyers in terms of what you are signing to do here is to close the dispute and not to continue it beyond this agreement. But then also actually being more realistic and more fair with what we contribute towards people seeking independent legal advice.
KJ: I'm going to try and get a couple more questions in these final few minutes. And someone's asked about how any advice on supporting those who might be the one being investigated as the subject of a complaint. So, balancing the kind of needs of protecting the whistleblower with the needs of others involved in the situation. Katherine, any thoughts on that?
KB: And really, it's about treating everyone involved in with that humanity that we were talking about, about the person raising, because it is an emotional thing to be experiencing whichever side you're on. And so, I would, you know, your normal, if you have an employee assistance programme, making sure that's available to people, pointing them in the direction of places where they can go for counselling and support.
KJ: Oh, you silenced, silenced yourself again.
KB: I don’t know what I keep doing. And any anything like any way that you can support everybody involved, because it's such can be really highly emotional time and with big gaps between things happening. So, making sure people have support either side of anything.
KB: If I could just add to that, that, you know, we need to be careful that we don't build policies and processes around the minority for the majority. And I'm stealing that phrase from one of our Code of Conduct volunteers. But, you know, we do know that there will be people who will misuse this process and perhaps make malicious claims. But the thing is that it's all about evidence. And so, you know, in terms of managing expectations of reporters, we've got to be clear that we're not going to be able to take action until we do get that evidence. And that process may take some time. So, it's really key about managing expectations and showing fairness to those that may be the accused.
KJ: And so, I'm just going to ask one more question. Rachel, I'll put it to you. We had a question in the Q&A about what to do. Any advice for smaller organisations where everybody kind of knows each other, knows each other's business and how you deal with this and where you might not have as formal kind of processes in place?
RS: I think a part of that is about a broader ethical culture and trust. It may be that, I mean, it's obviously a resourcing issue, but that having an external organisation supporting you with Speak Up is particularly useful if it is a very small organisation where there are lots of personal relationships. So, you might want to make sure that people know that they can report to an external provider if they want to, to avoid that kind of challenging thing, like speaking to someone's report. You have to, I don't know, the CEO is married to the HR director or something. I don't know. So, it's maybe a poor example, but that might sometimes be the case. So, using an external provider might help. But it comes back to, I think, just that broader sense of an ethical, open organisation where people know that issues can be raised and dealt with and making sure that external support is available if it's needed.
KJ: Brilliant. Thank you. I'm going to draw us to a close there because we are out of time. Apologies if I didn't get to your question, or I did say I misunderstood somebody's question, so I'm really sorry about that as well. We will have this available to download and watch again, and also the slides will be available. And, I know that Tina is happy to take any specific follow-ups and the email address to contact the ethics team at CIPD will be available on those slides. But, thank you so much, Tina, Andy, Rachel and Catherine, for your insight. And thanks, all of you, for watching and for being so engaged and asking really brilliant questions. So, just a quick reminder of our resources to support you in this area. And, that's it from us for now. Have a really great afternoon and we will see you soon.
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