Ethics and compliance hotlines have been around for a long time. Reportedly the first anonymous ethics hotline was established in 1981—more than 35 years ago. Growth in the number of firms offering anonymous ethics hotlines was spurred by government regulations. In response to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, “thousands of public companies” (Malone, 2004) began to at least consider adding hotlines to their employee services.
For hotlines to be successful, employees must be aware that they exist and must trust that they are safe and effective means for reporting their concerns. Trust involves organizational culture and leadership—incredibly important topics that we have discussed in the past and will continue to discuss in the future.
Awareness involves communication and promotion. Just about everything that advertisers know about how to build customer brand awareness can be applied to building employee hotline awareness. At the same time, organizational leaders and their ethics and compliance staffs have many and varied opportunities to promote and encourage hotline use.
Leaders (and advertisers) know that the key to obtaining a desired result is to “communicate, communicate, and communicate again” and to add variety. Successful hotline communication efforts, therefore, rely on regularly scheduled mass-communication methods, periodic discussion or training in smaller settings, tailored supporting communications, effective use of technology, and creative use of promotional items to serve as constant reminders.
In the early days, before widespread internal email use and before the internet became publicly available, employees learned about the ethics hotline through all-hands meetings or smaller department meetings and via wall posters, breakroom table tent cards, and paper brochures or flyers. Information about the hotline may have been added to the company handbook and distributed to all employees, and annual training may have been offered, if not required. Employees received “giveaways” promoting the hotline phone number, to include such standbys as wallet cards, printed sticky notes, pens, refrigerator magnets, and more.
These standard communication and promotion methods work very well to this day; keep employing them! But evolving technology allows for more frequent and more customized communication via methods such as video conferencing, webinars, email blasts, and short online surveys, and by using wikis, blogs, and other internal social media tools.
The company internal website should be a platform for promoting the ethics hotline. Companies can place highly visible links to hotline information on the top page, or better yet on all internal web pages; they can generate internal banner ads; they can push attention-grabbing hotline-related visuals directly to employee screens, and they can roll out ethics-related screen savers that contain hotline information; among other options.
In other words, the means to effectively and impactfully promote ethics hotline awareness and use have expanded over time, making it easier than ever to reach all employees in ways that will work for them.
Ethical Advocate has been providing ethics hotline, compliance, and training services for over a decade. We have over 4 million people contracted to use our anonymous ethics hotline reporting services. Please contact us for more information.
Malone, T. “Best Practices for Ethics Hotlines.” Fraud Magazine, January/February 2004.