Email vs Digital Whistleblowing System: The Pros & Cons

With the EU whistleblowing directive in full swing, all organisations with 50 or more employees must have a secure and anonymous internal reporting channel to allow employees to highlight corruption or wrongdoing.

In the scramble for compliance, many companies opted for the fast and straightforward solution of a dedicated whistleblower email address and inbox. 

The advantages of this approach are clear: It’s quick, inexpensive, allows reporting from anywhere in the world, and the barrier to entry is very low (almost everyone knows how to send an email). 

Still, those advantages are overshadowed by some significant disadvantages — particularly when it comes to ongoing compliance, data security, and employee trust. 

Here, we examine the downsides of email as a whistleblower reporting channel and share the best alternative to an email-based whistleblowing system.

4 disadvantages of email as a whistleblower reporting channel

1. It’s more challenging to comply with whistleblower laws and the EU Directive

As a quick reminder, an essential part of the EU whistleblowing directive requires your organisation to designate an individual or department to accept and handle whistleblowing reports. Once they’ve received a report, they need to acknowledge receipt within seven days and follow up with feedback on the report’s progress and/or outcome within three months. 

Using email as your internal whistleblowing channel makes this and other case-handling responsibilities more challenging.

With an email-based approach, emails can be accidentally deleted, easily overlooked, or end up in spam folders, which could mean legislated deadlines are missed. It also takes far more manual intervention to remain organized and comply with the directive’s rules and regulations. 

Ideally, you want to identify and address problems early, stimulate the sharing of knowledge and ideas, and improve trust among your employees. This requires a whistleblowing system with more oversight and extensive compliance features (such as automated reminders of upcoming deadlines). 

2. It’s harder to adhere to GDPR rules and maintain data integrity

The designated person or department must conduct all internal whistleblowing investigations securely and confidentially. Identities must be withheld, and the whistleblower must be protected from retaliation.

With this in mind, your internal reporting channel must fully comply with the General Data Protection Requirement (GDPR) regulations. A strict audit log must be maintained, and no one outside the designated person or department should be able to access the report’s details.

Email makes this trickier for several reasons:

  • Email does not encrypt its data automatically, meaning it can be read and potentially changed by others.
  • Email reports need to be logged manually, which could leave their contents open to mistakes or tampering. 
  • Email can be accessed by unauthorised parties (such as an IT department), putting the whistleblower’s identity at risk.
  • GDPR compliance requires sensitive information to be stored in high-security data centres, which cannot be guaranteed with email. 

Taken together, these reasons mean email isn’t audit-proof. Information can be easily intercepted, accessed, or tampered with, and it’s difficult to monitor who has seen the report and what they’ve done with it. Ultimately, this could invalidate the information a whistleblower shares, resulting in corruption or wrongdoing continuing unchecked.

3. It’s difficult to earn (and keep) employee trust

While it’s vital that your internal whistleblowing channel complies with the previously mentioned laws and regulations, you must also consider how it’s perceived by your employees

If you ask potential whistleblowers to simply email their reports to a dedicated inbox, they may not feel confident that their concerns will be handled properly (or anonymously). They might worry about who has access to the email message and if their identity can be kept confidential.

And if you can’t gain their trust from the outset, it could make them less likely to report wrongdoing internally in the first place. Instead, they may choose to take their concerns directly to the authorities or the media. 

4. There’s far more admin involved

Finally, using email as an internal whistleblowing reporting channel requires more time and resources. 

  • You may need to set up a new mailbox for each new report. This means you have an extra step to complete before receiving critical whistleblowing information, which could delay or deter reporting. 
  • You may also have several mailboxes to manage at once, making case handling more complicated and causing you to miss deadlines. 
  • You may need to manually log the contents of the email messages into a dedicated case management system, resulting in data entry mistakes. (Using two separate systems also requires the designated person or department to continually cross-reference between the two, rather than having all the information stored securely in one place).

What’s the best alternative to an email-based whistleblowing system?

As we’ve discussed, there are several downsides to using an email-based approach to capturing whistleblower reports. 

Relying on email alone makes it harder to comply with whistleblowing laws and data protection regulations, requires more administrative input, and is looked upon with mistrust by employees. 

It’s also difficult to scale an email-only solution inside a growing organisation. If you have multiple reports scattered across several different email threads, your case handling will only become more impractical and inefficient. 

So, what’s the answer? The best alternative to an email-based whistleblowing system is an all-in-one digital whistleblowing solution. Here’s why: 

  • It makes reporting and compliance easier. A dedicated whistleblowing platform allows your employees to report concerns in a manner that suits them, whether that’s via text or voice (legally, the whistleblower should have both options). All communication is then encrypted and stored securely, in compliance with the EU directive and GDPR rules. 
  • It makes case handling easier. A digital platform gives you a complete overview of all cases in one place, helps you take them to the next stage, and automatically reminds you of important deadlines. Furthermore, you can easily control what each case handler sees and invite third parties to a specific report if necessary.
  • It’s fully traceable. A digital whistleblowing app is audit-ready. All actions are logged and easy to access to ensure a tamper-free process. 
  • It builds trust among your employees. A digital system shows that you’re taking compliance and security seriously and that you’re actively accepting reports to clamp down on corruption and wrongdoing in the workplace, without putting anyone at risk of retaliation.

In summary

To recap, email might be a quick and inexpensive way to start accepting whistleblowing reports, but it’s far from the most effective. 

An all-in-one digital whistleblowing platform keeps everything safe, secure, and in the same place, ready for your case handlers to manage reports and meet deadlines. 

But above all else, it can improve trust among your colleagues and encourage them to report wrongdoing when they see it.