All of our employees have an obligation to report suspicion of any wrongdoing at our company. Our company strives to create an atmosphere where employees feel comfortable raising, discussing, and reporting ethical questions and concerns. When concerns are discussed openly, our company can correct issues before they turn into big problems. Our managers understand this and most of them practice an “open door” policy that encourages problems to be reported. But despite our best intentions, sometimes employees see nothing but trouble beyond that open door:
-“Open Door? Trust me, nobody wants to hear bad news.”
-“Why should I take the risk of reporting? Nothing’s going to change around here.”
-“If I talk to the boss about this, it’ll be all over the office in a couple of hours.”
-“I’m not reporting my co-worker. Nobody can force me to be a tattle-tale.”
Let’s explore some of the reasons that stop employees from reporting and some simple changes that can help to change their minds.
What Stops Employees?
Even if they are told that reports will be welcomed, employees have their own set of beliefs about what will happen if they report a problem.
-Management will retaliate: Employees may have seen or heard of others who were demoted, harassed, or even fired after they reported “bad news” to management.
-Reporting won’t change anything: This is the number one reason why people don’t report problems. If management won’t do anything anyway, it’s safer to just ignore the problem than to report it.
-Reports won’t be kept confidential: When employees believe that sensitive issues, such as harassment, may become the subject of gossip, they’re less likely to report.
-Misplaced loyalties: Some people feel that covering up mistakes or wrongdoing is part of being a friend.
Simply put, employees fail to report issues because their experience has taught them not to be involved. But in our workplace, we want things to be different.
Keys to Opening the Door
It may be difficult to change these beliefs, but it can be done when we consistently convey an attitude of openness. Here are some suggestions that every employee and manager can consider:
-Be proactive and alert to potential problem situations, and genuinely encourage open discussion by welcoming questions and issues whenever they arise.
-Allow people to speak up when mistakes are made or if someone seems out of line. Create a workplace where everyone is respectful and also respects our company’s high performance standards.
-Use staff meetings as a venue for discussion of ethical issues, so employees see ethics as a normal consideration in any business decision.
-Understand that in our company’s investigative process, reports remain confidential and results will not be revealed in public.
-When an issue is raised, take action. Involve experts such as HR or the Ethics Office, and take steps to initiate change.
Keeping the door open to honest communication fosters trust and improves relationships with customers, investors and local communities. We all need to take steps to ensure that our workplace truly has an open door that welcomes this kind of communication.
The other day an employee stopped me in the hallway to raise a very serious ethical concern. I didn’t want to put her off, so I let her talk right there in the hallway. Was this the right thing to do?
No. Serious ethical concerns should be handled as quickly as possible, but in a confidential setting. You should have asked the employee to join you in a confidential setting so you could gather the facts confidentially, and then called the Ethics Office or other company resource for further assistance, if necessary.
I think a co-worker is involved in an investigation of wrongdoing. My manager asked me unofficially to tell him what I knew about the situation. Do I need to answer his questions?
No. When an investigation is launched, you should become involved only when you are officially asked to do so by the company’s designated investigators. Your manager should not be asking you any “unofficial” questions. Contact the Ethics Office or HR for assistance with this matter.
As a manager, I am concerned that we’re making too much of the “open door” idea. What if people start looking for problems just so they can report them?
The best way to avoid problems is to create an atmosphere where it’s okay to bring up any issue as soon as it becomes a concern. Although people may occasionally raise issues that turn out not to be genuine issues, any issue that is a valid concern for any employee deserves discussion and should be raised.
One of my co-workers is the kind of person who always has something to say. My manager always takes the time to listen. Why doesn’t my manager just tell this person to be quiet and stop complaining?
Probably because your manager knows that it’s important to remain open to every issue and complaint. If any of our employees feel “shut down,” all of us risk letting important issues slide. If this is a performance issue, your manager will deal with the employee directly.