Why Anti-Retaliation is Essential to a Speak Up Culture
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Why Anti-Retaliation is Essential to a Speak Up Culture

  • General News
  • 31st January 2024

Why Anti-Retaliation is Essential to a Speak-Up Culture

When employees come forward advocating against wrongdoing towards themselves or others in the workplace, they are doing so within their legal rights and in the interest of the organisation. Employees also have the right not to be reprimanded for these actions. Employers and leaders who fail to see the importance of employees speaking up against workplace discrimination often react through retaliation against the employee, which effectively inhibits an inclusive speak-up culture. Let’s find out why Anti-Retaliation is essential to a speak-up culture.

Retaliation hurts not only the reporting employee, but your organisation, too. To have an effective, functional speak-up culture, you can’t allow retaliation to any degree.

What is a Speak Up Culture?

In an organisation with a speak-up culture, employees, as well as external people (e.g. customers, clients, partners, etc.), are encouraged to report concerns about anything from unethical behaviour to a compliance lapse. Regardless of the concern’s size, scope, or manner, it will be taken seriously.

A speak-up culture is:

  • Safe
  • Respectful
  • Open and Transparent
  • Unbiased

A speak-up culture is not:

  • Judgemental
  • Retaliatory
  • Accepting of wrongdoing

If your current company culture doesn’t promote speaking up, the first step is to determine the reason why. Often, “there is a disconnect between the employees on the front line and the senior management,” explains Kortney Nordrum, VP Regulatory Counsel & Chief Compliance Officer, Deluxe Corporation. This causes a lack of trust, making employees feel that reporting is either unsafe or useless. To establish credibility, she says, you need to value employee reports made in good faith, as well as punish bad actors in accordance with your internal policies.

Why Does a Speak Up Culture Matter?

Promoting a speak-up culture benefits both employees and your organisation. First, employees will know that their concerns are heard and taken seriously. In turn, making them feel safer and more optimistic about their work environment, leading to higher productivity and loyalty to your organisation and improved mental well-being.

As for your organisation, you’ll gain:

  • Actionable information about issues early, before they can escalate
  • An engaged workforce that cares about your internal culture
  • Direct, unfiltered information for your Boards of Directors to promote better corporate governance
  • An ethical culture that attracts new and retains current employees

In addition, a speak-up culture can save you money on non-compliance fines and legal fees. In their 2020 article titled “Evidence on the Use and Efficacy of Internal Whistleblowing Systems,” Stephen Stubben and Kyle Welch found that organisations with robust whistleblower reporting systems have four percent fewer pending lawsuits the year after increased hotline activity, improving to 6.9% fewer material lawsuits over three years. Additionally, overall litigation settlements of non-material matters dropped almost 20% over three years as well. In short, the ROI of a speak-up culture is both financial and reputational for your company.

What Does Retaliation Look Like?

In extreme cases, retaliation can mean the reporter is demoted, moved to a different team, or even terminated. However, retaliation can also take the form of more minor behaviours that are also unethical and illegal.

Other retaliatory behaviours could include:

  • Not inviting the employee to meetings, trade shows or other work events
  • Reviewing their performance more negatively than it should be
  • Passing them over for a deserved promotion or raise
  • Cutting their hours
  • Micromanaging them and/or criticising work at a previously acceptable standard
  • Spreading rumours about them
  • Turning other employees against them
  • Ignoring them and/or not letting them speak in meetings
  • Not including them in social outings
  • Threatening to do any of these things

Why Does Anti-Retaliation Matter?

The primary reason to keep retaliation out of your organisation is to protect your employees. Everyone deserves to feel safe at work. Moreover, employees who work in positive environments have better physical and mental health, which means they can innovate and do their best in the workplace.

This applies not only to the reporter, but to other employees as well. Failure to address issues shows every employee in the organisation that you don’t care about what they have to say, or about their well-being.

In addition, several employment laws prohibit retaliation in its different forms, including:

Failing to comply with these laws puts your organisation at risk of fines and penalties by regulators. You’ll also likely receive negative press coverage, which can harm your reputation with customers and business partners. Ensure that every time you investigate and discipline employees, you follow consistent processes laid out in your company policies.

Finally, commitment to non-retaliation can also reduce other misconduct. By showing employees that you don’t accept retaliation, you will discourage them from other unethical behaviours, especially if they’re prohibited in your internal policies. A speak-up culture free of retaliation helps reduce time, money and stress spent on responding to incidents by preventing them altogether.

 Companies with a robust culture of speaking up generate more reports. Conversely, companies with more limited use of their whistleblower reporting systems are seen to have poor governance, which can turn off potential employees, business partners, vendors, and customers. An organisational culture that encourages employees to report concerns (without fear of negative consequences) improves your overall organisational ethics and helps prevent incidents.


Author Shannon Walker

About The Author Shannon Walker

Shannon Walker is the Executive VP of Strategy for Case IQ, the leading provider of investigative case management software with solutions for ethics and compliance, human resources, fraud, and corporate security functions within mid-sized and large organisations. Founded in 1999, Case IQ counts over 80,000 investigators and case managers on its platform who are actively addressing workplace incidents, resolving millions of cases, and preventing billions of dollars in potential litigation.

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