Survey Uncovers Evolving Understanding, Definition of Retaliation in Whistleblowing Situations

Kachina Shaw

A September 2012 survey of compliance and ethics officers by NAVEX Global uncovered a few new trends developing around the topic of whistleblowing and retaliation. The “Retaliation in the Workplace” survey collected responses from 279 ethics and compliance professionals, and the results suggest that organizations could benefit from putting more energy into increasing transparency around the whistleblowing process, so that employees are informed about what really happens after a whistleblower comes forward.

Rather than locking down all information in an effort to protect both the organization and the whistleblower during the investigation period, “Providing a hotline number for raising concerns is not enough. To maintain a positive corporate culture that is rooted in trust, organizations need to share sanitized information on how management actually handles claims,” says Shanti Atkins, president and chief strategy officer for NAVEX Global. “It is time to take away the mystery of what happens after an employee reports an issue.”

Fifteen percent of respondents said employees are informed of retaliation trends and internal reporting of suspected misconduct in their organizations.

A second trend worth noting is that the definition of retaliation is evolving. The narrower definition of retaliation as either firing or demotion now includes a range of outcomes including lack of promotion or being socially shut out or shunned by coworkers. The broader definition is apparently shared by both management and front line employees; front line employees also included negative comments from peers as part of the definition. NAVEX suggests that this change indicates a better understanding of the true nature of retaliation by both management and employees. The survey shows that 29 percent of respondents do not provide training on retaliation prevention, but this deeper understanding may show that employees are more than ready for that training.

Respondents said the following actions would be most effective in reducing or minimizing retaliation:

  • Effective training and awareness programs: 74 percent
  • More open communications between management and line workers: 45 percent
  • Enhanced corporate culture: 41 percent


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