For a long time, corporate ethics was treated like a bad joke. Films such as Wolf of Wall Street, Margin Call, and television shows like Mad Men, all highlight the contempt many entrepreneurs had for corporate ethics in the past.
But times have changed, and so has corporate culture.
The shock of the 2008 financial crisis has re-trained the public’s eye on corporate misbehavior. Where past ethical indiscretions might have been swept under the rug, modern ethics issues can destroy a business, forcing it into bankruptcy beneath a wave of legal fees, settlement payments, and negative publicity.
Unfortunately, most ethics issues are ever present. Where there is a hierarchy, there can be abuse. Where there is money, there can be theft. In short, where there are people there are opportunities for exploitation and wrong-doing.
The only way to avoid putting your organization in a vulnerable ethics situation is to thoroughly police your workforce while swiftly dealing with any complaints or improprieties; but how?
Ensure Protected Reporting
To ensure effective reporting, your employees must feel protected from both unfair corporate retaliation and the negative social stigma sometimes associated with the policing of peer conduct.
To do this, your reporting system should be anonymous, where investigators do not actually know who has made the complaint but act solely off of the information included in the complaint—and it must be “confidential,” where if investigators are aware of who is making the complaint, this information remains private. Providing anonymity and confidentiality is important, as some reporters may want some level of contact with investigators and they want to be protected from retaliation.
Online reporting may encourage feeling for the reporter that they are protected. To ensure that employees who use anonymous reporting don’t feel that their complaints are being “lost in a void,” it is important for investigators to update the ethics reporting system with an acknowledgement of the report and investigation. This is true regardless of whether a report comes through the on-line system or via call center reporting, as callers often come back to check on the investigation status.
Both on-line and call center systems work. At Ethical Advocate, we’ve found that stakeholders will use both mechanisms if they are provided. Just a few of the factors determining on-line versus call center use include the degree of connectivity in the workforce, participants’ average age, education level, and how the hotline is marketed to stakeholders.
The best ethical compliance regimes are built around showing employees that participation in a self-reporting system can effectively resolve their concerns. As such, companies that institute ethics hotline programs are best served by those systems that allow participants to use whichever mode is most comfortable for them. At Ethical Advocate, we provide our clients with on-line and call center services and reporting systems that enable reporters and investigators to address concerns in an anonymous and confidential way if they so choose.