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The Benefits of Having (and Promoting) an Ethics Hotline

The Benefits of Having (and Promoting) an Ethics Hotline

The importance of promoting a speak up and listen up culture cannot be understated. In the past year, Syntrio has focused significant energy in delivering the message that organizational success hinges (in part) on empowering the workforce to speak up about concerns that may arise within the organization. Working hand in hand with the concept of empowerment to bring concerns is management’s willingness to listen up to those concerns, and take action promptly, without any fear of retaliation for the employee’s willingness to raise their concern.

Most of the time, having open lines of communication allows for the workforce to deliver their concerns openly, and without the need for anonymity. After all, the concept of open communication is what speak up and listen up are really all about, at least as those tools relate to improving organizational culture. Unfortunately, sometimes there are concerns and/or issues that are simply too sensitive to raise in the open. In those cases, employees need to have a channel to report their concerns openly, albeit anonymously. For this reason, the ethics hotline is a proper channel to provide employees that opportunity.

Ethics hotlines provide a channel for organizational accountability in those situations where an employee may need to report a sensitive issue such as misconduct on the part of their supervisor. Further, there are times when an employee may have experienced a type of misconduct that is too personal to talk about with their manager or organizational leadership. Having an ethics hotline available provides those employees a channel to speak up openly and honestly about their concerns, without fear of facing the accused or if the employee simply believes reporting in person may lead to adverse employment action.

There has been much debate about the effectiveness of ethics hotlines, with pundits arguing that the same people who would receive open reports often process the anonymous complaints, and retaliation does still occur once the matter is investigated. While these are valid concerns, analyzing the effectiveness of an ethics hotline in the abstract negative is the wrong approach, because doing so misses the many positive aspects of having a hotline in place.

Syntrio believes in opening lines of communication. Doing so is the fundamental principle of implementing a speak up program. That said, having and promoting a hotline encourages people to report without any fear of adverse consequences and/or discussion on the topic. Having a hotline in place is convenient for the workforce, and provides them with the safeguard they need to know the employer at least cares about their concerns, and wants to hear about them. All too often employees fail to report misconduct because they honestly believe nothing will be done. Having a hotline in place provides a safeguard mechanism that can be relied upon when the speak up initiative is still in its infancy, and can allow employees to feel more comfortable reporting concerns they otherwise would keep quiet about.

When employers encourage in person reporting to a supervisor or member of leadership they should also remind employees of the availability of an anonymous hotline. While it is beneficial to make clear the preference to report in the open, employers should make clear that a hotline is available to take their complaints and is a perfectly acceptable mechanism to repot a concern. Indeed, employers should encourage their workforce to speak up in any means they feel comfortable so that they can receive, investigate, and address any concerns that come to light.

Syntrio has developed a wide variety of materials aimed at implementing a speak up and listen up culture within your organization. We also offer a full ethics and compliance hotline service that can provide your workforce with an avenue for anonymous reporting of complaints and concerns. We encourage you to speak with a member of our staff to see how we can help you empower your workforce to speak up, both in person and via anonymous channels.

Since 2007, Jonathan has practiced labor and employment law on behalf of management. Jonathan focuses his practice on advising employers on the prevention of harassment and discrimination issues, with an emphasis on providing in-person harassment training programs to companies of all sizes. Jonathan is licensed in California, Illinois, and Wisconsin, and maintains a national advice practice.

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