Show fear of whistleblowing the red card!
As I write, I can hear lots of whistle blowing going on at Euro 2020 in the background – but perhaps not enough of the kind I write about below.
June 23rd is World Whistleblowers Day. This is a day when we can show support for individuals willing to speak up and raise concerns about wrongdoing or malpractice within their workplace, and to encourage others to do so.
The focus on certain issues such as health and safety concerns, has perhaps never been more evident than during the pandemic, with whistleblowers playing a key role in ensuring safer conditions; for example, those working in care homes or workplaces where social distancing rules are not in place. However, with more of us than ever before working from home, particularly in financial services, where new practices and procedures have been created over the past year to support the ongoing delivery of services to consumers, there has also been more opportunity for malpractice and irregularities in the virtual workplace, and less certainty about how to report this if and when we identify it.
With this in mind, in March 2021, the Financial Conduct Authority launched a new campaign - 'In confidence, with confidence'. This is aimed at reminding individuals in the sector that they can come forward with any concerns about potential wrongdoing in complete confidence, with no need to prove their concern, just to share it with the team at the FCA. To this end, it has invested in a set of resources which are accessible from its dedicated webpages: www.fca.org.uk/firms/whistleblowing, including a short video outlining the most common reasons people report instances, and why whistleblowing is so important. There is also a leaflet, which is aimed at individuals with a strong focus on how they protect the identity of those that take the brave step forward to speak up : www.fca.org.uk/publication/information-sheets/whistleblowing-employee-leaflet.pdf.
Our own signposting (and fully anonymous) member service - Speak Up – saw a dramatic rise in individuals seeking guidance on issues of bullying and sexual harassment during 2020. Of course, often these cases are not specifically a whistleblowing issue, and something that HR policy should support individuals with. Speaking to our colleagues at Protect – the whistleblowing charity, whose report Silence in the City 2 (protect-advice.org.uk/silence-in-the-city-2) published this time last year indicated significant improvements in trust in the whistleblowing systems within the financial services sector. Still, cases do come to them and often part way through the process. There are lots of online resources available from Protect (protect-advice.org.uk/advice-line) that can help steer you through the early stages, with relevant case studies and templates. These can help prepare individuals for taking that next step and can be useful tools to ensure that having spoken up, their concerns are treated appropriately. Protect also help organisations improve their Speak Up frameworks through membership services, training, and their unique diagnostic Benchmark tool.
The aim of this blog is to highlight the fact that help is out there to support you if you feel something isn’t quite right. But let’s not end on a negative – more and more firms are creating the type of culture, where speaking up is viewed positively, whilst acknowledging that there is still room for improvement. As the FCA states ‘When whistleblowing works well it helps consumers, markets and firms and keeps everyone safe and that is our aim.'
Today, we show our support for those that have already displayed personal courage by stepping forward to voice their concerns and hope that by signposting some of the available resources, others that may be considering speaking out, know that the support is there to help them make that next step.
Shona Matthews is Head of Regulation and Policy at the Chartered Banker Institute.