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Employers should review messaging and training around whistleblowing policies in the new world of work, reveals Freshfields’ latest global survey

  • Less than half of respondents felt that the ‘average employee’ at their company would know what to do should a whistleblowing incident occur
  • Almost two in three respondents in France think managers are not properly trained on whistleblowing procedures versus one quarter globally
  • More managers want the identity of a whistleblower revealed, with 63 per cent in favour globally and more than eight in 10 supportive in the U.S.

Global law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer (‘Freshfields’) unveils its new global survey which confirms that whistleblowing, and the promotion of a strong speak-up culture, continues to be a hot topic for businesses around the world. With whistleblowing in the spotlight, global businesses need the right policies and processes in place to deliver an effective speak-up culture and support employees.

The firm surveyed more than 2,500 managers in the U.K., U.S., Hong Kong, Germany and France, and the data showed increased involvement in whistleblowing overall since 2020, with more than four in 10 respondents reporting being involved in whistleblowing in some form. Less than half of respondents felt that the ‘average employee’ at their company would know what to do should a whistleblowing incident occur, raising the importance of effective procedures and awareness of them.

Knowing the identity of the whistleblower is important to more people globally than it was in 2020, with more than six in 10 respondents in favour versus 50 per cent last time around. The most notable shift in attitudes came from the U.S., with 81 per cent raising the importance of identifying the whistleblower – a significant increase from just a quarter of respondents in 2020.

Training initiatives continue to be important to support employees, with one quarter of people feeling that managers were not properly trained on speak-up procedures. This was most likely to be the case in France, where almost two in three respondents (64 per cent) believed managers were not properly equipped to deal with personnel issues of this sort.

Freshfields People & Reward partner Holly Insley said: “Our latest research demonstrates that having a robust framework for whistleblowing and compliance in business should be prioritised by clients across sectors. The rise of whistleblowing laws around the world, coupled with heightened regulatory scrutiny, means whistleblowing is a topic that is staying top of c-suite agendas. It’s critical that organisations provide clear messaging on policies and reporting routes, and proactively raise awareness with colleagues to prevent reputational and financial risk later down the line.”

Freshfields Disputes Resolution partner Adam Siegel said: “We know that a broader focus from stakeholders on corporate culture and employee behaviour is driving a change in attitudes towards whistleblowing. It is also impacting expectations as to how whistleblowing matters are handled. Companies must grapple with those expectations against the backdrop of significant changes in the workplace, with remote and hybrid working arrangements becoming the norm for many global employers.”

Further highlights from the new research include:

  • Almost 28 per cent of respondents thought that the #MeToo movement had prompted their companies to improve their whistleblowing procedures (up 10 per cent from 2020)
  • 85 per cent of respondents felt that remote and hybrid working practices have had a long-term impact on whistleblowing. However, opinions were split over the ‘why’ and ‘how’:
  • 29 per cent said that agile working practices had resulted in less whistleblowing because they were less likely to see or hear issues
  • An equal amount (29 per cent) felt that employees generally felt more comfortable blowing the whistle because of the privacy afforded by homeworking

The firm gathered the views of more than 2,500 managers – across various levels of seniority and responsibility in large companies and 13 industries in the U.K., U.S., Hong Kong, Germany and France – to gauge their attitudes towards whistleblowing and how they may have changed.

This is the fourth instalment of the Freshfields Whistleblowing Survey. Further information on this year’s report can be found here.