Everything you should know about whistleblowers, but did not know what to ask.
What is the highest and best use (HBU) of a whistleblower?
A whistleblower (WB) is a person who reports bad or illegal conduct from within an organization. Most countries have laws to protect WBs. Whistleblowing is a superior tool for fraud and loss prevention, deficiency, and dishonesty. Many such cases have been exposed by workers who reported events to employers, regulators or the press. Especially fraud and child abuse. It is known and generally accepted that more cases of fraud and corruption are exposed by WBs than any other method, even law enforcement or the media.
So whistleblowing is a very powerful tool for loss prevention generally. It’s just a matter of using it right for it to be a huge benefit to us all.
Savvy employers will use open dialogue in the workplace. They see the value of being aware of mistakes or wrongdoing at an early stage. This creates the chance to fix problems quickly before they fester and get worse. “In business as in life it is never a case of things not going wrong: it all comes down to how to deal with matters when they do go badly”. This is a mark of personal skill and flexibility. So whistleblowing is by far the sharpest and most useful tool to have in these situations. It goes straight to the bottom line. Low-cost fraud and loss prevention.
Who should suffer most—the whistleblower or those who are exposed?
So to “blow the whistle” or to just report an event can be life-changing. A decent person can easily lose their job or any prospect of promotion. Isolation and deep personal suffering are very common, sad to tell. A complete career crash and heavy financial losses are in the mix there too. So if they can, potential WBs should be aware of the risks they face and take steps for protection any chance given.
Fraud, dishonesty, corruption, and incompetence are all part of the human condition. Greed, ambition and a need for power are deep and powerful motives. We’re happy to report that morality and integrity are also choices people make from the array of options we all have. This is what makes our humanity a force of nature. There is also bad governance, negligence, lack of transparency, poor decision-making, creating scarcity, laziness, and inefficiencies. All are solid grounds for whistleblowing.
How tough do you need to be to be a Whistleblower?
One thing for sure, blowing the whistle on bad acts takes courage, resilience, and personal integrity. Not many can or will do it. Those who act to expose serious wrongdoing, whatever their methods, are special people. In a word, heroes.
There are at least six stages to the WB experience and it’s a tough journey. For this, you will have to be tougher than a marine. This is not how it always happens with a WB event, but it’s a guide.
1) Discovery has been unavoidable and puts the soon to be WB in a very tough position. Many go through deep anguish and pain figuring out their call. Nobody asks for this, you can be sure. All cultures despise and revile informers of any kind. The further down the human food chain you go with this, the more personal it seems to get.
2) Disclosure is about loyalties and harsh responses. Normally none of it is positive. Many handle this aspect very well. Some are less fortunate and get into extreme difficulty. This is where a good plan always helps.
3) Retaliation by the exposed persons or entity can be swift and ugly. This is where the “WB revilers’ rhetoric” kicks in. Usually very loud and forceful. It seems to get a lot of traction with modern media. Or perhaps we are missing something here? This often goes way beyond trolling on the Internet.
4) Isolation usually comes from colleagues and fearful co-workers. This can be very tense often rising to some personal violence. Mostly the WB is ostracized and abused. Guilt and regret are common reactions.
5) Solidarity comes from decency and moral people of all colors and creeds. Sometimes, it’s all a WB needs to stay standing in the face of all that fire.
6) Vindication is when recognition and reforms happen. Loss prevention and damage limitation can be a long and slow process.
Make no mistake, those who engage in the WB ordeal suffer greatly. The journey might not end with validation either. Public vindication of WB, even people as worthy as Silkwood, Assange or Snowden never comes easy. In fact, the public arena eludes most. Reprisals strike at the core of being. Already coping with inner conflict and turmoil, then driven from the workplace. Rites of abuse and degradation. This is more than life-changing. The personal identity and survival of the WB are challenged endlessly. Planned personal and professional rejection, intimidation and commentary to discredit are just some of the reprisals calculated to cause as much pain and trauma as possible. PTSD, Moral Injury and victimhood are normal after effects for the one who chose to deliver the message.
What’s in it for me?
Yes, of course, there are rewards. Aside from the financial reward in some situations. There’s the fame, albeit notoriety. Post WB studies show personal growth, more confidence, and better relationships. For some, there’s a clearer vision and greater love of life. Adversity builds character, but you know this already. So for the WB with a good attitude, the experience can be inspiring for self and others. It’s worth noting that most WBs take action as a last resort and not for material gain. Sure, there are always exceptions. So most WBs usually act out of conscience and become masters of their own destiny. That’s the heady stuff of real heroes.
For these and a few other reasons, whistleblowing is critical to managing unethical and illegal behavior. It is a definitive tool that can be used to expose and combat corruption. It goes a long way in aiding fraud protection and loss prevention. Those who promote it as a genuine and honest option wouldn’t have it any other way. Luckily, there are a few of those folks around to help.
How does the smart whistleblower do it?
One of the smartest WBs of all time was Mark Felt aka “Deep Throat” who exposed the abject dishonesty of the Nixon US presidency. He was smart enough to choose a couple of journalists of exceptional integrity for his exposé. Such journalists and media channels are becoming harder to find. When we do find them, they get shot, blown up, or imprisoned. This is more unsung heroism from professional WBs, aka journalists. The Watergate Scandal and its aftermath would also have been one of American Journalism’s finest hours and there have not been many of those since. Felt revealed himself at the time and place of his own choosing. He also changed the course of history to some degree. The really smart ones we don’t know about because they were never caught, and good for them!
More effective however, would be people like Edward Snowden, the former CIA/NSA contractor. Daniel Ellsberg, The Pentagon Papers, Chelsea Manning, US Army private who released over 750,000 documents exposing the US government drone assassination program. Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. Karen Silkwood, who exposed gross corporate practices related to nuclear health and safety and who died in highly suspicious circumstances. All of these and many more have paid a massive personal cost and suffered serious hardship at the dictate of their conscience. We cannot thank them enough for their sacrifices and heroism.
Why should we listen to Whistleblowers?
There are very good reasons why we have to listen to WBs and stay out of denial of the sad facts they usually present. Here’s a story of an acute whistleblower failure that haunts us all.
After a very narrow escape from the Germans invasion of November 1939, Jan Karski, a Polish diplomat and patriot joined the SZP, the first resistance movement in German-occupied Europe. Jan Karski was only one of many pseudonyms which he was later legalized. He provided intel from the Polish underground to the gvernment in exile in Paris. Caught while on a courier mission, he was tortured by the Gestapo and as a result, sent to the hospital. With help, he made a good escape. As soon as he was back on his feet, he went back on duty.
By 1942, the Nazi plan “The Final Solution” to wipe out the Jewish race was in full train. Karski was picked to perform a critical mission to inform the Polish prime minister and others of the facts. For evidence, Karski was twice smuggled by Jewish leaders into the Warsaw Ghetto to bear witness to what was really happening. He had also disguised himself as an Estonian camp guard and had been to a transit camp for victims on their way to the gas chambers. The Polish resistance at great cost had also gathered intelligence. There was even microfilm evidence, rare in those days. Karski’s sense of humanity was outraged at what he had seen. Denial of the facts was not going to be an option.
So by the end of 1942, Karski had spoken directly to the Polish, British, and U.S. governments using the most compelling language he could find. A booklet, “The Mass Extermination of Jews in German Occupied Poland”, by the Polish government-in-exile addressed to the wartime allies of the then United Nations and was widely published. Even the Vatican got their copies. A clear chance of major loss prevention. In this case, the loss was our humanity.
Having met as many people as he could in London, Karski then traveled to the United States. There, he met with Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was the first eyewitness to speak with a US president about the Jewish Holocaust. He met with many others, even the Hollywood crowd and Jewish leaders, but no action was taken. This was a genuine whistleblower whose message was ignored and the result will glare in human infamy.
How to use the Whistleblower System for dynamic loss prevention.
There are so many benefits to be had from genuine WB chances; it might be wise to write up a short summary.
We learn from our mistakes. “A person who never made a mistake never made anything.” But we don’t want to know about our errors, do we? WBs live in the real world, but most of us are averse to a reality check, especially when things seem to be going well.
Exposure of facts by WBs go right to the bottom line. This includes corruption, loss prevention, criminal acts, negligence, and incompetence. It’s another even longer list.
WB info addresses ethical, moral, and integrity issues. It’s crucial to democracy and grossly underused and taken amiss by mainstream media – or is it?
It is an open and direct criticism of poor systems and bad ideology. We all need this and we don’t have to like it either. WBs are just messengers.
WBs speak truth to power like no other form of communication.
WBs have saved our economies billions through loss prevention. Recent WB reports have exposed child abuse, mass fraud, bad bankers, insider trading, theft, subversion, and loss of life through terrorism.
The US claims a global leadership in WB protection laws and whether this is true or not, it’s still an onerous and dangerous undertaking for anyone. The US has had WB protection legislation since the 18th century. They introduced new laws because of huge levels of systemic fraud and corruption across all their systems. The Sarbanes–Oxley Act of 2002 is already shown to be a failure. These laws were supposed to prevent Wall Street criminality and protect WBs. However, the crash of 2007 still happened with frauds too big to be even investigated as such. In 2018 they’re still publicly abusing and even jailing WBs and that says it all.
Europe and specifically the EU has shown itself to be still very immature on this issue.
Not only do they fail to use the WB process to protect their democracy, but the abuse and persecution of WBs is also relentless and very ugly. This was recently demonstrated in Ireland to a police (Garda) officer who had reported major corruption over traffic offenses. A senior officer created a faked case of child sex abuse against him. This is in a country that aspires to be a progressive democracy and a key player in the EU. Some people just don’t seem to want to tell the difference between betrayal and info delivered for the common good.
There is a grand, bright light on this issue. Such a country is small but very transparent—Bhutan in the Himalayas. It’s right there in their constitution, Article 8, item 9: “Every person shall have the duty to uphold justice and to act against corruption.” This simple little line makes whistleblowing a virtue in that country. It’s backed up by an anti-corruption commission, so it has teeth. It easily shows Bhutan to be a shining example of democracy at its best. Our western democracies still have a ways to go on that.
WBs play a key role in exposing corruption, fraud, mismanagement, and other wrongdoing that threaten public health and safety.
Also, financial integrity, human rights, the environment, rule of law and on it goes. These failures to protect WBs makes acting a very risky proposition. Even with top-notch laws, protecting them is very much a challenge. It’s no surprise then that over 70% of EU citizens would normally not report corruption. “Ah, sure it’s everywhere and nothing is done about it.” In fact, other nouns associated with whistleblower include: informant, snitch, betrayer, denunciator, dirty rat (USA) and so on. So whistleblowing in any context is a negative word. We really do need to clean it up. It’s a vital ingredient for a successful democratic process.
Would you support a whistleblower if you know of one?
For those who see the benefit of and are willing to enable a whistleblowing culture and practices, let’s run through a few ways we can enable better transparency and accountability in all our lives.
- Have a clear, concise and positive WB policy. Market it whenever the chance presents itself. Get it out there.
- Be aware of the legal issues surrounding whistleblowing and stay current.
- Create a channel that allows people to come forward and highlight issues of concern to all. This can be an email address or phone hotline. Also a specific person or department responsible for the processing of all WB contacts.
- Ensure there is clarity and understanding about what WB is and how it benefits everyone. Be very clear that WB is not a betrayal of any kind on any level and give it a strong moral standing that people can aspire to.
- Know what motivates a WB in each case and ensure there is no other agenda other than the common good.
- Do not alienate or abuse any WB. Make sure they are well protected and feel secure in coming forward. Trust and compassion are critical components of the process.
- Always be sincere and discreet when dealing with WBs.
- Engage with the process and be seen to respond quickly.
- Complete a risk assessment of what would happen if you were to have a WB event in your life.
- Share WB resources with other like minded people and organizations.
- Provide protection and moral support.
- Quantify and quote the value of loss prevention in any and all WB events.
When it comes to loss prevention, the whistleblower is a prime tool, like a scalpel to a surgeon or a hammer for a nail. We have to use it. Properly. That means openly and honestly. What are the chances?