Whistleblowing is disclosing a wrongdoing that is in the public interest.
If you watch quite a number of black American movies, you would be familiar with the word “hood”. Here in Nigeria, there is also a hood in every neighborhood – and every hood has its own code of conduct. The word “hood” does not necessarily connote a bad gang, though. It could simply be a group of people who walk, move, and interact together. When a member of such a group, tells on the activity (ies) of the group, he or she is referred to as a snitch.
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If we then refer to an organization as a community or entity of its own, we can take some liberty to call an organization a hood…of its own kind – a large hood complete with different groups or crews on all sides: the Eastside and the Westside (nothing gangsterish), or the Northside and the Southside (if there were ever anything like that). Snitching can happen in this hood. A good form of snitching. It’s called whistleblowing.
When there is some sort of illegal activity, malpractice, or risk and imminent danger to people around and an alarm is raised about it, such an act is called whistleblowing. Whistleblowing is a prosocial behavior that benefits the organization and everyone therein.
The downside is that most people, culture,s and even the law treat the act of whistleblowing as antisocial behavior, labelling people who engage in it common snitches; thus, leaving people without the courage to whistleblow since they believe that they have much, if not all, to lose.
Every business, firm, or organization cannot by any means recruit perfect individuals a hundred percent of the time. It is undoubtedly certain that there would be one or two individuals with corrupt tendencies and/or behavior. The presence of these kinds of people opens a gap that whistleblowing fills.
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It is only natural that the first set of people who would notice wrongdoing in an organization would be the employees. Therefore it is expected that the first set of people who should act, react, or make a move in respect of such malpractice or wrongdoing are the employees also. An employee has in the real sense, three options when wrongdoing is perceived:
- Staying silent
- Approaching the person responsible and
- Reporting to the media or authorities
In practical terms, most employees opt for turning a blind eye to the crime or offense and simply keeping quiet about it. This is because keeping quiet is usually the option with the least possible risk for the employee and, in the short term, sometimes, even the organization.
For obvious reasons, the employee who is in the position to blow the whistle would rationalize that his or her intentions could be easily mistaken, or, in another instance, he or she could be considered as overzealous, especially when the employee is not the only one aware of the perpetuated malpractice.
Most importantly, if the whistleblower (the employee who notices the wrongdoing and raises an alarm) is not absolutely convinced that any action would be taken to discipline or correct the perpetrator of the malpractice or wrongdoing, the natural choice would be to keep quiet.
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Although a whistleblower that chooses to stay silent for any of the reasons above cannot outrightly be blamed, it is important to state that the option of staying silent is in effect, not a good one. The outcomes of keeping quiet about perceived wrongdoing in an organization though seen as easy and less risky are ultimately far worse. Two of the major results of a habit/culture of staying silent are:
- 1) Workers, managers, and even competitors start to see their fraudulence as a norm or perceive the organization and society as very permissive
- 2) The society and authorities begin to pay more attention or direct their efforts towards initiating compensation and/or punishment, instead of prevention
Alternatively to keeping quiet or approaching the person responsible for the malpractice, the whistleblower can also report to other authorities or the media. These forms of whistleblowing are regarded as external whistleblowing. This option is usually taken by people or individuals who feel the absolute need to take some sort of action against any form of corruption and who perceive that blowing the whistle internally may not be safe enough, or the right actions would not be taken.
These methods of whistleblowing are becoming increasingly popular especially since new technology and social media emerged and gained acceptability. Most of the outside claims and whistleblowing are however done with anonymity. The problems with anonymous claims, however, are that it could make the process of investigating such claims more difficult. Also if such person is identified (because making claims anonymously doesn’t give a hundred percent guarantee that such individual might not/cannot be traced or identified), the individual’s intentions might not be perceived in good faith; there is just something off-putting to people when an anonymous informer is finally identified.
Nevertheless, the main tenet upon which the concept of whistleblowing is built is so that corrupt acts can be promptly raised and addressed in the workplace; and that proper action is duly visited on the perpetrator of such act. A whistleblower should, therefore, under normal circumstances, be seen as a witness and not a jobless complainant. When organizations are able to effectively embrace the culture of whistleblowing, they encourage responsible employees to stop seeing the option of keeping quiet as an option at all. This would ultimately help alleviate corruption.
The only people, firms, or organizations which benefit from penalizing and discouraging whistleblowers are those with corrupt intentions and actions. They perceive that by discouraging whistleblowing, they can confidently perpetuate their wrongdoing, without the fear of being detected or punished.
The prevalence of a “silence culture” can ultimately encourage individuals who had no initial criminal intent to start nursing negative ideas. As far as they are concerned, the greatest consequence of being caught, disgraced, and punished is no longer a cause for concern.
Whistleblowing cannot fully develop as a culture without appropriate backing from the management of the organization. They have to convey a clear and concise message about their stand against corruption, and their intent to be transparent in all dealings. An organization portraying such an image is inadvertently encouraging whistle-blowing and discouraging reprisals, maligning, and bias against whistleblowers.
Globalization and the resultant increase in the flow of information have caused a change in various aspects of economies, businesses, and employment. With these changes, it is apparent that the conventional approach towards relationships and confidentiality in the workplace cannot remain the same. This has placed a bulk of responsibility on the law, corporate culture, and practice to work towards identifying whistleblowing as an accepted way of raising true concern when any kind of corruption or illegal activities are noticed in the workplace; without the fear of victimization.
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