Whistleblowing can drive positive changes in companies, industries, and societies. At the same time, it's essential to be aware of common pitfalls that can ruin whistleblowers' lives and cause unbearable legal trouble.
We listed the top 10 mistakes that all whistleblowers should avoid:
- Not collecting enough evidence. It's essential to have solid proof to back up your claims of misconduct or wrongdoing. Without concrete proof, your allegations may not be taken seriously. It's also important to stay within the law and not break it while collecting, transferring and submitting the evidence.
- Not seeking legal counsel early in the process. It's always a good idea to speak with a lawyer before blowing the whistle. They can help you understand your rights and the potential risks and rewards of speaking out. There are many legal organisations that support whistleblowers and can offer free or discounted counsel.
- Going to the media before reporting internally. While reaching out to journalists can be an effective way to bring attention to an issue, it's usually important to report misconduct internally first. This can give the organization an opportunity to address the issue and may also protect you from legal action. This also demonstrates that your intentions are positive, you're trying to do good and explore all possible options before going "nuclear".
- Failing to protect your identity. If you're not careful, it's easy to accidentally reveal your identity - through collecting the evidence and tripping wires of corporate security systems, making social media posts before completing your case or sharing watermarked documents with the press. It's essential to keep your identity protected to safeguard yourself from retaliation - if you suspect it might be the case.
- Not understanding the legal process and regulations. In the modern workplace, there are many laws and regulations that were created to facilitate safe whistleblowing. However, it's not omnipotent, has limited scope, and can't protect a whistleblower from everything. Being smart and pragmatic about evidence, the wording of allegations, and using appropriate channels can make a big difference - from getting fired or demoted to winning the case and fixing the systemic problem.
- Not being prepared for the emotional toll. Whistleblowing can be an emotionally draining experience, and it's essential to have a support system in place to help you cope. The moment a whistleblower goes public, they often become an enemy of their own organisation that tries to minimize the impact of the allegations. Colleagues can turn hostile, and the supportive company structures could be pulled off in a moment.
- Not having a plan for potential retaliation. It's quite common for whistleblowers that go public to face retaliation, including being fired, demoted, or getting bad press. It's essential to have a plan in place in case this happens to you. Consider checking your savings versus the monthly budget, updating your CV, scrolling through your social media, and looking for any posts that may be used against you in the future.
- Being impatient. The process of addressing the reports, especially, on deeply flawed issues, can take time. It's essential to be patient and persistent. If a company uses modern whistleblowing software, it can help facilitate the process and keep both parties satisfied.
- Not following through. It's important to follow through and see the process through to the end. This may involve requesting updates on your case, providing additional evidence or testimony as needed. As a whistleblower, you challenge the organisation to do better, and after blowing the whistle, it's now your task to hold them to a high standard and not let it slide.
- Giving up. It's easy to become discouraged, especially if you face backlash or the process takes longer than expected. It's essential to stay the course and not give up on your cause.
While there are many common mistakes that whistleblowers can make, it's an essential process that makes the corporate world and working environment better for others. It's also beneficial to organisations to facilitate responsible and easy-to-follow internal whistleblowing processes. Doing so would protect potential reporters from harm and empower them to come forward with important findings that should be timely addressed.
Modern whistleblowing software such as Whistle Willow can lend organisations a hand and become a key component of a successful whistleblowing program. Try it today for free and get live in just 5 minutes.