The Human Effects of being a Whistleblower

For some, the effects of whistleblowing are felt before, during and long after the fact. Feelings of disloyalty occur in the run up to blowing the whistle on a particularly sensitive situation or when it concerns a fellow employee. Research shows that:

Whistleblowers are also found to have a strong moral compass so keeping quiet does not come easy to them if they have witnessed a serious breach in their organization.

Once the whistle has been blown, employees have a sense of relief that something will be done to rectify an issue, but also worry about being discovered as the whistleblower, particularly if they have requested to remain anonymous.

What happens if or when the case comes out into the open can cause a variety of effects: the stress itself of simply being “The One” who blew the whistle can affect the employee in many ways: gossip can start, especially if there have been repercussions, and other employees (unbeknownst to them) may even speak to the whistleblower trying to guess who it is and misunderstand the reasons for why the whistle was blown; it can leave a sense of Us versus Them. General mistrust can surface amongst employees with others feeling that any wrongdoing or even mistake can suddenly be viewed as a whistleblow waiting to happen. Of course, this is not the case, but this can occur when training and awareness around the reasons for having a whistleblowing process are not fully understood or perhaps that process does not even exist in the organization.

It is a fact that retaliation is higher in organizations that do not have training and awareness about a whistleblower service.

Cultural differences also surround whistleblowing, with differing opinions everywhere, even across Europe where some do, and some most definitely do not. This was discovered in an organization when a Code of Conduct and whistleblowing program was being rolled out with extensive training and awareness, only to find that some senior executives, based on particular nationality/culture did not fully agree with it. The Board however, (and thankfully) did.

Employees who whistle blow, worry for a myriad of reasons, not least about losing their job, or being looked over for promotion or projects. Their worry is real. Almost a quarter of Americans (where legislation for whistleblowing is pretty decent) worried about retaliation after they blew the whistle, and a good number actually suffered retaliation too. Nearly half of those who did not report whistleblowing, after seeing wrongdoing, chose this path because of fear of retaliation. One third of those Americans who did whistle blow were dismissed from their organizations later. Shocking stats for a country where there are billions of dollars in lawsuits from whistleblowers under the False Claims Act.

In fact, it takes a lot of courage for whistleblowers to come forward to begin with, so the news of additional legislation surfacing, and especially here in Sweden and wider Europe should give some comfort to those who may choose to suffer in silence.

However, will those personal and very human emotions still be in play? No doubt at all. But as people come forward and raise the alarm about fraud, bribery, human trafficking, health and safety violations, violence, to name but a few, it will hopefully create a sense of normality around doing so, and end the stigma long associated with it. Ugly terms like “snitch”, “grass”, “traitor”, “do-gooder” come to mind, but if the people who used such words actually thought about what whistleblowing is, they would see that it is only meant for good, because, who wants to be seriously injured or die from someone’s negligence? Who wants to lose their job because the company’s reputation or finances go asunder? Who wants to see loved ones get abused in the workplace or school or in fact anywhere they should feel safe?

Here in Sweden, where we already have a law (The Whistleblower Act SFS 2016:749), a proposal was tabled last summer for bringing the new EU regulations into local law, and government here are taking a serious stance obliging all organizations (with more than 50 employees) and municipalities (with more than 10’000 inhabitants) to have whistleblowing channels available. It will change the face of things to come, in a positive way one hopes, and end the stigma of what being a whistleblower really is.

The next big question is: Are organizations ready for the legislation? December 2021 is the deadline.

If you need more help with understanding the legislation, here is a summary I prepared earlier this year. Feel free to reach out directly and in full confidence as well:

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