Build Hotline Trust

Fraud Magazine recently ran an article about ten major factors leading to hotline distrust (Hubbs & Kniesche, 2016). Flip those factors around, and you have ten major factors leading to a trusted and effective ethics hotline system.

Here is that (flipped around) list, with some conclusions drawn from the full article (link below):

  1. Ensure employees understand how the system works. Unanswered questions, doubt, and uncertainty can prevent an employee from using the hotline. “The more information and organization can share about the program to increase transparency, the more likely and employee might be to come forward.”
  1. Provide adequate resources and invest in good program design. “Organizations demonstrate they value the reporting of concerns by spending money on well-designed hotline programs with professionally trained efficient responders and investigators, fully integrated case management systems, and all of the necessary support tools and resources.
  1. Personalize employees’ concerns. Make sure employees who report a concern get a response quickly from qualified and experienced professionals. “Concerned employees need support and reassurance that they’ve done the right thing, the organization will address their concerns, and they’ll be protected from retaliation.”
  1. Ensure that hotline call takers and investigators have the training, knowledge, and skills to handle complaints properly. When complaints are handled well, with investigators drawing correct conclusions and taking appropriate action, employees are more likely to trust and use the hotline or other reporting options.
  1. Make sure that hotline administrators and call takers are seen as (and are) independent and objective. “Often it’s most effective to use a third party to administer the hotline.”
  1. Maintain a professional, centralized, and streamlined program. Too many options can create confusion, not only for employees who have something to report but also for staff throughout the organization who may be receiving reports. “A professional, centralized, clearly articulated program helps streamline reporting, increase communication and awareness, decrease confusion, and build trust.”
  1. Encourage employees to report all issues of concern. Even seemingly benign guidance to employees that they should only report “credible” or “good faith” complaints may dissuade employees from reporting any issues, for fear they do not rise to the level expected. If an employee is found to have made a malicious or fictitious complaint, deal with it at the time. Most employees want to do the right thing.
  1. Communicate a zero tolerance policy for any form of retaliation. Watch for it, and if found, “deal with it swiftly and publicly.”
  1. Deliver consistent and fair outcomes regardless of the individuals involved. “Employees will learn through the grapevine if the organization delivers fair and consistent discipline… [and] if employees view outcomes as fair, they’ll feel more compelled to report concerns.”
  1. Remember that actions speak louder than words. When leaders and others behave consistently with the ethical principles they espouse, employees will trust them, and then they will trust the system—including the ethics hotline.

Ethical Advocate provides comprehensive ethics and compliance solutions, including ethics and compliance training and confidential and anonymous hotlines. Contact us for more information.


Hubbs, Ryan C. and Julia B. Kniesche. “Top 10 Factors Leading to Hotline Distrust.” Fraud Magazine, July/August 2016.