Connect emotionally with workers to boost whistle blowing in office

Posted By: Staff
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Washington, Dec 8 (ANI): Establishing a close gut-level connection with workers could be the key to encouraging whistle-blowing, according to an ongoing study by University of Illinois researchers including an Indian-origin scientist.

The researchers said that although it is not considered important, but tapping into employees' emotions and personal values can produce powerful triggers for calling out wrongdoing in the workplace, from petty theft to embezzlement and sexual misconduct.

"It's very difficult to encourage people to blow the whistle if you ignore the role of emotions and personal identity, which most company policies do at this point," said Abhijeet Vadera, a graduate student who is studying the issue along with business professor Ruth V. Aguilera and former U. of I. professor Brianna Caza.

Earlier studies are not clear on why employees blow the whistle, exploring factors such as age, gender and time on the job, but providing inconsistent results, according to the new report.

The researchers followed up that study with a survey of workers at an Indian manufacturing plant, which they say provides insight that could guide employers seeking to build a culture that encourages workers to report wrongdoing.

In the survey, 40 percent of respondents said they witnessed wrongdoing on the job.

Half failed to report it, citing reasons such as doubt that management would act or fears of retaliation, including losing their jobs.

But, Vadera, who interviewed workers at the 1,500-employee cement manufacturing plant, said that for the half who blew the whistle, emotions trumped even the possible loss of income.

"When I interviewed whistle-blowers, almost all of them cried during the interview. The survey showed that people mostly blow the whistle because they are absolutely angry over something that they feel is unfair or unjust," said Vadera.

Aguilera says companies can help breed a moral compass and emotional response to wrongdoing through regular, extensive training sessions that detail right vs. wrong - from stealing pens to misappropriating funds - and the consequences.

"Employers need to explain that wrongdoing can cause an Enron-type scandal that could sink the company, or eat into the revenue that covers payroll and raises. Knowing the implications can bring their moral identity and emotions to the forefront, making them more likely to blow the whistle," Aguilera said.

Those trainings sessions also build a connection between workers and the company that can encourage whistle blowing, said Aguilera.

Aguilera said that no ethics policy or compliance program would convince every employee to report wrongdoing.

But Aguilera said that the timing is ripe to ramp up whistle-blower programs, based on studies that show employee outrage is mounting amid corporate misconduct that fuelled the nation's deepest recession in decades.

"Everybody has a different definition of right and wrong, but most people like to look at themselves in the mirror and think they are doing good things," Aguilera said.

Vadera said that connecting with workers' emotions and personal identity has to be done in concert with a company ethics policy that clearly outlines how to report abuses, and then follows through.

The study has been published in Business Ethics Quarterly. (ANI)

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