Why and how to encourage snitching

Do you encourage “whistle-blowing”? You should. Your employees are likely to witness unethical behavior that could sink your organization.

Just look to the Wells Fargo fake accounts scandal for evidence: The banking giant must pay $190 million in fines and fees, after it was discovered that employees allegedly opened millions of bank and credit card accounts without customers’ permission.

Perhaps as troubling as the behavior itself, going back to 2005, employees at various levels in the organization took their concerns to HR, individual managers and leaders, and the internal ethics hotline. Yet the behavior continued—even after 2011 when letters describing the behavior were sent directly to the president and firings began.

While you may not want to be a snitch—or encourage the behavior in others—if unethical actions go unchecked, people could lose their jobs, and your organization could lose money, customers and the public’s trust.

Remove the stigma of whistleblowing by following these tips:

MGR Handbook D

Educate your employees. Start by making every employee aware of the laws and ethical standards concerning your business. They should know unethical behavior when they see it.

Create a safe space to voice their concerns. Employees need to trust you. It’s that simple. They need to know they can come to you without repercussion when they witness something that makes them uncomfortable.

Respond with appreciation, not annoyance. It takes so much courage for an employee to point out unethical behavior—and risk being known as a troublemaker—so you need to take any claims seriously, no matter how trivial they seem.

Investigate quickly. Whether you do the investigation or you bring in another more appropriate person to do so, never ignore someone’s claim. Doing so tells people that you approve of unethical behavior. Act quickly, ensure that the problem is being resolved, and follow up with employees afterward to let them know how the issue will be addressed.

— Adapted from “Managers Aren’t Doing Enough to Encourage Whistleblowing,” Shivaram Rajgopal, Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org.