I’m Andy Noble, Head of Speak Up at NatWest Group. I have been with the company for 39 years, the last seven of which have been dedicated to developing our whistleblowing framework ‘Speak Up’. It has been the most rewarding role I have had to date, and I learn something new every day!
I am very passionate about creating an environment where it is safe to raise concerns about wrong-doing or inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. In such an environment, workers should be able to raise concerns openly, without fear of reprisal. However, when this is not the case, whether perceived or otherwise, it is important to have a confidential and secure escalation process that workers can trust. Every concern raised should be seen as an opportunity to improve ways of working and help an organisation to be the best that it can be.
It takes a lot of courage to speak up, and there are many barriers preventing workers from raising concerns. Those barriers range from fear about career impact, through to lack of confidence that anything will be done to address issues raised. It is therefore vitally important to clearly communicate how to raise concerns, what workers can expect if they do speak up, and how they will be protected from detrimental treatment as a result of raising their concerns.
So what is meant by detrimental treatment? Protect, the whistleblowing charity, define detriment as “subjecting the worker to any disadvantage because they blew the whistle”. What someone views as detriment might depend on their individual circumstances, but it can include harassment, discrimination, or victimisation – or through a direct or indirect act or omission.
At NatWest Group, to support workers who raise concerns through our ‘Speak Up’ service we have introduced a risk assessment process. The assessment is conducted as soon as a new report is received, and at case closure. This helps the bank to identify, at an early stage, whether there are any factors, or ‘early warning indicators’ that could potentially increase the risk of detriment occurring. This allows action to be taken to protect the worker, taking into account their individual circumstances.
Each case is different but, if there is a higher risk of any workers identity being deduced, then they might be at a higher risk of suffering detriment. Other considerations might include whether the worker has previously raised concerns, or if the nature of the incident that they are reporting makes them easy to identify.
A risk assessment should be used to flag any risk to the investigator and make recommendations to keep the worker safe, both during the investigation and after its conclusion.
Considering any potential early warning indicators upon receipt of a report is an effective way to identify risks and put in place mitigants to prevent issues. It also allows those handling the concerns to have a constructive conversation with the worker about the steps being taken to support them. This helps to build trust and rapport, making the worker feel valued and listened to. All staff involved in handling concerns, including the investigators, should be trained in detriment so they can look out for it and act if they see it.
So I shall leave you with a few questions to consider.
- Do you make it clear to workers how to raise concerns about wrong-doing or inappropriate behaviour in the workplace?
- Are your reporting and investigation processes documented and easily accessible for all workers to see?
- Do you clearly explain the processes in place to protect workers if they do raise a concern?
- Do you tell workers what process to follow if they think they are being treated detrimentally because of speaking up?
- Do you have a process in place to identify and manage potential risks of detriment occurring?
If the answer to any of these questions is ‘no’, then now is the time to take action.