67%. That’s a huge number. When employees report misconduct, 67% report it to their manager. In contrast, on average, according to HR Acuity’s Employee Experience survey, only 6% report to the whistleblower hotline. In compliance, we focus so strongly on the whistleblower hotline that we may be missing a gaping hole – the managers who take the initial reports.
Worrying few compliance programs actively equip managers to handle complaints. While many companies train managers on non-retaliation, very few take the time to go over what to do if the manager is faced with an employee reporting concerns of unethical conduct.
How do you equip your managers to properly respond to complaints? By creating a communication, infographic, or a short training that contains the following.
The Meaning of “Report”
When an employee comes to a manager to talk about potentially unethical conduct or to report a violation of the Code, they usually don’t walk in and say, “I’d like to make a confidential report of unethical conduct.” No, more often they say something like, “I don’t know if I should say anything, but I think Pauline may be pushing her friend’s company to get the contract.” Managers need to be aware that this type of conversation is a “report” of misconduct, and should be responded to as such. Without proper training on this, managers may make the situation worse by brushing off the concern – or worse – retaliating against the employee for bringing the concern in the first place.
Managers should be trained to recognize trigger words for when a report is being made. These may include, “concern,” “uncomfortable,” “think that [followed by potential violation].”
What to Do
Once the manager recognizes that a report is being made, they need to know what to do. Make sure that they know to do the following:
Actively listen – let the employee tell the whole story without interrupting if possible
Repeat back the main points of concern to ensure that the whole story is understood
Thank them for bringing the concern to your attention
If the issue needs to be reported to compliance, tell the employee that you will be doing so to prepare the employee
Report the issue to compliance, legal or human resources as appropriate
What not to Do
Just as important as training the managers on what to do is training them on what not to do. Make sure they know the following:
Don’t make any promises or guesses about how the concern will be resolved
Don’t brush it off or tell them you’re sure it’ll be fine
Don’t share the concern with anyone who doesn’t strictly need to know about it
Don’t argue, retaliate, or threaten the employee
Don’t start your own investigation
Don’t question the reporter’s motivation or second guess their reason for reporting
Don’t take sides
If managers know how to respond to employees voicing concerns, the likelihood that potential violations are fed to compliance improves greatly. As anyone who has performed an investigation knows, the gathering of initial information is crucial to the success of an investigation.
If you’ve already got training or communication on non-retaliation, consider adding information on responding to a complaint. If you don’t, consider creating a training or communication to address both non-retaliation and what to do if a concern is raised by an employee.
Managers are the company’s first line of defense when it comes to reports of misconduct. Equipping them to perform this critical role will improve trust in the company, leading to an improved culture.