It’s time to blow the whistle on negative connotations

Whistleblowing.

Now there’s a word to conjure up a raft of emotions, almost every single one of them negative.

That’s quite ironic as I believe the term was coined back in the 1970s by US civic activist Ralph Nader to avoid the negative connotations associated with words like “informer” and “snitch” – and in the Australian vernacular, “dobber”.

Before moving away from the semantics, may I just say how much I personally detest the word “whistleblower” as the act itself should be one overflowing with positivity and celebrating undeniable and admirable ethics.

Which brings me to the very point of this blog – the need for organisations to get with it and deal with these people I prefer to call “champions of moral courage” in a manner that is unambiguous and says loudly, clearly and stridently: it is completely unacceptable that these people pay a negative price.

And if there is even a hint of bullying, intimidation and victimisation, or if a promotion is being denied as a result, it is totally at odds with the culture of the organisation and, as such, will not be tolerated.

But more than that, there needs to be an appreciation that this kind of retribution is not only a work, health and safety breach but a criminal offence.

In addition, organisations need to have in place an effective program and policies that support this zero tolerance stance, things like a protected disclosure policy and a code of conduct. Furthermore, these need to be extremely well communicated through the induction process, through regular reminders via posters around the office, and through training programs and refresher courses.

But perhaps the most important element is to have someone trusted and independent of the person’s manager, to whom the individual can go to expose any information of activity that’s deemed illegal or dishonest.

And it’s the Board’s responsibility to ensure all of this is in place.

After all, the board is there to lead by example and nurture and protect the environment that reflects the organisation’s culture.

The matter must then be fully investigated and the person kept appraised of the progress being made, as well as the end result…which should also be shared with staff.

On a brighter note, there are positive stories coming out of Australia. Just recently, the Vice Chancellor of Sydney University suggested the university should offer a basic four-year degree filled with subjects vital to today – and one of these is ethics – to prepare the next generation of leaders to deal appropriately with the ethical dilemmas they’ll doubtless experience throughout their careers.

Similarly positive were the utterances of the recently retired Chief of the Army, David Morrison, who told the traditionally male-dominated troops that anyone not willing to work with women and accept them as equals had better get out as they had “no place among this band of brothers and sisters.”

No ifs, no buts, no maybes, no grey areas…

Until next time,
Kate.

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