Having arrangements for speaking up contributes to sound risk management and helps to address misconducts that can lead to financial and reputational losses. But developing a culture of speaking-up remains a challenge for many.

Our research project, led by experts from the University of Greenwich, Warwick Business School and Queen's University Belfast, examined the opportunities, challenges and best practices associated with different types of speak-up arrangements.

The findings gave rise to recommendations for developing, operating and overseeing effective speak-up arrangements.

Different voicing channels

Provide employees with a range of channels through which to voice their concerns. This increases accessibility and offer different solutions regarding independence and anonymity.

Also consider using an external independent advisor with whom employees can raise questions and seek advice under legal privilege.

An open mind

Be prepared to accept that concerns raised may not be a case of speak-up or whistle-blowing. Some of concerns may appear to be individual grievances or even trivial. However, they may help organisations recognise previously unidentified risks.

Recording concerns to analyse them

Design a speak-up back office to record concerns. Organisations can use the captured data to strengthen:

· risk management

· response processes such as investigation and intervention.

as well as to assess the effectiveness of whistle-blowing arrangements.

Staff in different functions – for example compliance, HR, internal audit – should liaise with each other to ensure concerns raised are properly followed up. There should be a

Recording and analysis of concerns raised through different speak-up channels should be managed centrally.

Respond well

Organisations should put robust response systems in place when encouraging employees to speak up, failing to do so may lead to negative consequences.

The responses need to be well organised, clearly mandated and adequately resourced. Organisations should not underestimate the complexity of the information flows.

Visibility of response matters to employees

Make responses visible where possible.  This can help increase trust in the effectiveness of the speak-up arrangement and in the organisation itself. It might be possible in some cases to involve the employee who raised the concern in developing a solution.

Emphasise continuously to managers at all levels their role in responding to concerns raised and ensure to restrict their discretion about whether/how to respond.

Communicating the outcome of investigations may not be straightforward, due to:

· anonymity of those who voiced the concerns

· legal issues about sharing information, including sanctions imposed.

Solution may be to create awareness by using an anonymised case story, clarification of rules about certain procedures and sharing statistical data.

Contribute to best practice

Consider participating in the development of a standard for the public reporting of data from speak-up arrangements.

This article is an overview of this topic.

Download the full, in-depth report in PDF format.

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"Effective speak-up arrangements can increase internal trust. It is not solely dependent on the level of trust that already present in the organisation."

Why whistle-blowing and speaking up?

Whistle-blowing can be a key means of exposing dangerous wrongdoing and dysfunctional organisational behaviour.

Speak-up arrangements can have economic benefits. By whistle-blowing and speaking-up, employees regularly expose economic crimes, often exceeding the effectiveness of other means such as corporate security.

Organisations need to provide effective, preferably multiple, channels for speak-up so that barriers such as independence, anonymity and perceived accessibility can be compensated. 

Organisations should make the best use of data they obtain from listening to employee voice: it can reinforce risk management. Responding to concerns and making it visible where possible enhances trust in organisations.