A new survey finds the No. 1 reason employees don’t report misconduct is fear of retaliation.

report misconduct

There’s a good chance that more than half of your employees look the other way regarding compliance misconduct by coworkers, according to a new survey.

Gartner gathered responses from over 2 million respondents from 167 organizations worldwide between 2009 and 2017. The results revealed that nearly 60 percent of all misconduct observed in the workplace is never reported, which can create huge risks for organizations.

The No. 1 reason is fear of retaliation, says Vidhya Balasubramanian, managing vice president of Gartner’s legal and compliance research group.

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“Almost one in four employees tell us they wouldn’t report because of fear of retaliation from their coworker, manager or organization in general,” she says, adding that tenured or college educated employees or those in senior positions are less likely to fear retaliation. “They just don’t know what will happen to them.”

Likewise, employees who don’t report misconduct feel they lack enough information–uncertainty lowers reporting rates–or don’t believe the company will take action.

At the very least, Balasubramanian says, HR can strengthen its reporting system by observing five key steps.

First, HR needs to re-frame the concept of reporting, she says. Instead of employees believing they’re simply tattling on a coworker, HR should rebrand reporting  as a process that enables them to clarify or ask questions about company policies or procedures and speak up when they suspect improper employee behavior.

The second step is to create various reporting avenues like an anonymous hotline or a specific email or web portal. HR managers then must offer guidance to workers regarding whom employees can address their issues with, such as HR, a boss or even another supervisor.

Next, HR needs to ensure the reporting process is consistently communicated, says Balasubramanian, adding that it’s vital to remind employees about why reporting is important and how the process works at every opportunity, including onboarding, new manager training, leadership programs, town hall meetings and in employee communications.

Equally important is manager training. According to the Gartner survey, two-thirds report misconduct directly to their boss. But does that boss know what to do with the information, whom to share it with or when to escalate it?

“That will dictate whether employees will come to [their boss] again and what they’re going to tell their friends,” says Balasubramanian. “Most employees are just as likely to speak up and report something they’ve seen to their manager and ask for guidance in the same breath.”

The last step, according to Balasubramanian, is to increase transparency, which in turn demystifies the entire reporting process by keeping employees updated on any developments in a case.

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“You don’t need to give them all the details,” she says. Instead, give them “regular touchpoints so they don’t feel their information got lost in a vacuum somewhere. Employees who report expect to have some sort of update about the investigation process.”

Besides facing legal and financial troubles, she says, companies that dismiss reports of employee wrongdoing can also damage their own reputation, which often leads to high turnover or recruitment challenges.

“Many companies are taking to heart the #MeToo movement and also the number of scandals over the last couple of years that have implicated senior leaders,” says Balasubramanian. “That’s been a big impetus for companies to reassess their processes.”

Carol Patton is a contributing editor for HRE who also writes HR articles and columns for business and education magazines. She can be reached at [email protected]

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