World Whistleblowing Day 2023The numbers on whistleblowing you need to know for 2023
Attitudes that Last for Decades
Rat, snitch, tattletale – these are words associated with the act of whistleblowing.
Just a simple Google search looking for synonyms leads to these terms. Terms set in countries that for decades were under the rule of authoritarian regimes with the existence of secret police networks. During Soviet times, individuals would often secretly provide authorities with information on neighbours, co-workers, and family members (1).
This part of history still lingers in modern language and has even become a part of pop culture. Whistleblowing carries a stigma and negative connotations in many European nations and is not limited to countries with an authoritarian past. The necessary cultural shift for whistleblowers to be respected is still far away in Europe (2). In order to achieve this, the narrative and perception around whistleblowing needs to change and the Whistleblowing Day 2023 is a good opportunity to start talking about it.
“traitor, spy or snitch are all common synonyms for whistleblower”
Connotations in Some EU Countries
Czech Republic, Ireland, Romania, and Slovakia, the term ”whistleblower” is associated with being an informant.
Bulgaria, Italy with a traitor or spy.
Hungary, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania with a snitch.
This is also strengthened by a survey made by the EU Commission (3) in 2017 where 81% can see that negative attitudes towards whistleblowers are an important reason why people might not want to whistleblow when experiencing misconduct.
Why People Might Not Want to Blow the Whistle
The EU Commission study (3) asked what the important reasons might be for people to not whistleblow in case they experience misconduct. These are their findings for what might keep people from reporting misconduct that we want to highlight for the Whistleblowing Day 2023:
93% fear legal consequences when it comes to whistleblowing.
92% fear financial consequences for raising their voice.
86% fear getting a bad reputation for blowing the whistle.
86% found that threat or harm to the public interest would be too difficult to prove.
84% think it’s lacking knowledge about where and to whom to report to
78% thought that no action will be taken to remedy the wrongdoing
Over 11% of the respondents had been involved in a whistleblowing case in their workplaces over the last 10 years. Of these, over 50% had experienced it directly as either witnesses or they themselves were the ones who blew the whistle.
Social Acceptance Varies Within the EU
Social acceptance of whistleblowing is key for more people to raise their voices and concerns about wrongdoing and when seeing misconduct happen. The rates of social acceptance vary immensely across Europe where only five out of the countries in the EU report having a majority of between 63-74% saying it is socially acceptable to whistleblow.
Portugal, Germany, Italy, the UK, Sweden, and France (63-74%) are represented by these countries.
There is also a noticeable disparity between EU members who joined before 2004 and after 2004. Older member states have a higher social acceptance with 58% while for newer members it is only 31%.
Whereas in Lithuania, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Hungary just 15 % of citizens believe it is acceptable to report corruption (5).
We Want to Do Good, Yet Fear Is Keeping Us Silent
According to Pring (5) the reason most people keep silent on misconduct and wrongdoing is based on fear of retaliation or negative back flash. In France, The Netherlands, and Portugal this is seen as the main reason people do not report corruption.
Still, one in four citizens in the EU thinks that reporting corruption is the most effective method against it, while only a small minority would speak up. And at the same time, most EU citizens personally feel compelled to report an incidence of corruption.
Not Trusting Leadership
Research made by Dondé (4) shows that 43% in the private industry who have been aware of misconduct in the workplace did not raise concerns about the issue where the main cause for silence (28% of respondents) has been the lack of confidence in management’s willingness to take corrective action, followed by the fear of jeopardising job security (27%).
Also, similar numbers have been seen by Pring (5) where one in eight believe that the main reason people do not report is because of a lack of action taken on it, having a lack of trust in the reporting channels’ effectiveness or public officials immunity against corruption (12%).
legislation alone is no magic bullet”
Trends, Time, and Effort
Surveys and research give us different yet coherent statistics. They show us the trends of the state of whistleblowing in people’s minds. There is a good intention in wanting to report wrongdoing yet fear is the part that hinders most people to blow the whistle on misconduct. Fear of bad reputation, financial and legal consequences and not trusting that leadership will correct the report wrongdoings.
It is also clear that there is a lack of knowledge about to who and where to report. The Whistleblowing Day 2023 is an opportunity to help boost this information so that it reaches as many people as possible in order to to make informed decisions on what whistleblowing can be.
Safety and Anonymity
Healthy organisations have a speak-up culture and promote discussions on ethics at all levels of the company. But for those who feel unsafe at work, fear losing their jobs, or risk retaliation for speaking up against misconduct, it’s important to have anonymous channels to report to. In those cases, anonymity promotes safety when it comes to whistleblowing – and lowers the barrier to blowing the whistle on misconduct and wrongdoing.
In 2017 the EU Commission conducted a survey with over 5,700 respondents (3). Almost all, 99.9%, of all respondents believed that whistleblowers should be protected. And one of the ways to keep whistleblowers protected is by keeping them anonymous in those cases they fear retaliation in some form.
It Takes Time to Create a Cultural Shift
As to quote Dr Simone White (7) ”the new legislation alone is no magic bullet” to change the fears and attitudes that are related to whistleblowing. The effort to reach people with this information and time needs to pass before whistleblowers begin to understand and trust systems that have been put in place to protect them.
A change in culture in the workplace must also take place for whistleblowers to begin to trust reporting procedures before we might see a noticeable increase in the number of reporting of misconduct after the adoption of the new legislation. We hope that these curated numbers provide you with a new insight into what whistleblowing means nowadays and what needs to be done. And that said, happy Whistleblowing Day 2023!
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