Coronavirus  

Now is the time to embrace the whistleblowers

Now is the time to embrace the whistleblowers
 REUTERS/Mal Langsdon/Files

An increasing number of employees are blowing the whistle as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This means there is an immediate need for companies to ensure their whistleblowing policy and processes are still accessible to all employees and fit for purpose, in order to maintain good corporate governance, culture and risk management.

Protect, the UK’s whistleblowing charity, reported a 36 per cent rise in calls to its confidential advice line in May compared with the same period last year, with many of those calls relating to Covid-19.

Unsurprisingly, employers’ immediate responses to the pandemic, including abuse of the furlough scheme and unsafe working environments, have dominated reports. 

Key Points

  • More employees are whistleblowing due to the pandemic
  • It is important to have a whistleblowing policy in place
  • Malpractice might be happening due to remote working

However, the risks go much further than this, with new working practices and the macroeconomic environment increasing the risk of everything from regulatory breaches to burnout, for example.  

Financial services companies have been operating in entirely uncharted waters and the initial focus has naturally been on operational challenges, such as those surrounding remote working and assessing the economic impact of Covid-19.

The risk is this may have diverted attention away from other less obvious issues, including changes to risk profiles, leaving cracks in risk management frameworks.  

There could also be a dilemma emerging, where employees have more reasons to blow the whistle, but at the same time, they do not feel safe speaking up.  

Companies should not underestimate the significance of developing risks and the importance of having an adequate whistleblowing process in place.

Every business should embrace the role that whistleblowing can play in effectively managing the risks that emerge in the coming months. Getting it right can help minimise detriment to the company, its employees, its consumers and the wider market.  

Conduct risk

The Financial Conduct Authority recently highlighted the risk that home working may facilitate misconduct.

Employees being ‘out of sight, out of mind’ makes it more difficult for managers to oversee how they are undertaking their role, who they are interacting with and how they are using data.

Gaps in oversight could also occur if employees lose their sense of responsibility and the opportunity to take behavioural cues from colleagues. At its worst, rogue employees may see home working arrangements as an opportunity to commit misconduct while going undetected. 

The economic and emotional impact of the crisis may also increase conduct risk.

Financial pressure or fear of redundancy may result in employees lacking judgment or becoming susceptible to committing fraud or bribery. Indeed, Action Fraud has reported a significant increase in fraud-related incidents since the outbreak of the coronavirus.   

Another danger of home working is that managers and employees become disconnected over time. Reduced interaction could result in managers making decisions based on hard data alone, without an appreciation of the wider context.