Do Employees Actually Believe Reporting Is the Right Thing to Do?

August 18, 2022

Contributor: Jordan Turner

Around half of employees take a more pragmatic, not idealistic, approach to reporting workplace misconduct and only pursue it if they see no harm, or even some personal benefit, to themselves.

In short:

  • Chief compliance and ethics officers (CCOs) typically rely on three tactics to improve employee reporting of workplace misconduct: reporting ease, employee safety and personal responsibility. 

  • Most CCOs overemphasize the importance of improving reporting ease, but personal responsibility to report has the greatest  impact on employee reporting.

  • CCOs can encourage employee reporting by creating a new reporting value proposition that speaks to employees’ personal responsibility.

In a hybrid world, workplace misconduct reporting rates have fallen by 5%, which means compliance is learning about 30% fewer workplace misconduct instances. That is due to several environmental changes, such as distrust in the company because of social polarization, fear of losing jobs amid pandemic-led attrition, competing mental concerns, and time commitments.

And while almost all CCOs (81%) assume employee perception of reporting is grounded in the belief that it is simply the right thing to do, a significant portion of employees don’t share that perspective. Leaders lean into this misguided perception by emphasizing how workplace misconduct reporting helps the company. Yet around half of employees take a more pragmatic, not idealistic, approach to reporting and only pursue it if they see no harm, or even some personal benefit, to themselves.

“It may surprise many compliance leaders to know that just 54% of employees feel that reporting workplace misconduct is the right thing to do,” says Chris Audet, Senior Director, Research, at Gartner. “Employees understand it is what they are supposed to do but in many cases, they aren’t sure that doing so will work out well for them or their teams, so they choose to keep quiet.”

Why employees don’t report compliance violations

A typical compliance approach to reporting drives trust and emphasizes anti-retaliation policies, but that’s somewhat misguided. Employees have very poor perceptions of reporting being beneficial: Only a third believe reporting will lead to a better work environment or improve their team’s morale or performance, and just over one in five employees think reporting will be good for their career.

Instead of assuming all employees will be compelled by the moral imperative of reporting, build a value proposition based on three drivers: benefit, trust and safety. A reporting value proposition is the value employees receive in exchange for taking the time, effort and courage to report workplace misconduct at their company.

Addressing the benefit of reporting represents an untapped opportunity for compliance leaders. It is the most important factor driving a sense of personal responsibility to report, yet leaders typically have not fully considered how employees might perceive the benefits of reporting, beyond benefits to the company. And those points rarely form prominent components of speak-up messaging or guidance from compliance teams.

How to drive benefit, trust and safety in reporting

To convince all employees that reporting is the right thing to do, a reporting value prop must address three key components that impact personal responsibility: benefit, trust and safety.

Benefit in reporting

The belief in reporting benefits has the greatest impact on personal responsibility to report, but few CCOs pursue it. Just a third of employees believe reporting will lead to a better work environment, improve their team’s performance or increase team morale. Employees need to hear and understand why reporting will positively benefit their teams, careers and personal

Trust in reporting

When employees trust the transparency and fairness of the reporting and investigation processes, they are more likely to have an increased sense of personal responsibility. Yet fewer than 43% of employees believe their company maintains transparency and communicates effectively about its reporting process. Fewer than 45% believe that if they report, people will be punished only if they deserve it, innocent people will not be punished and offenders will receive a fair punishment.

Compliance leaders should make certain to emphasize that transparency and fairness are important pieces of the reporting and investigation process in any and all communications to employees.

Safety in reporting

Eighty percent of compliance leaders have a stand-alone anti-bullying or anti-retaliation policy to make employees feel safe to report. Protecting employees from retaliation should continue to be a priority; however, such efforts are only beneficial when they are communicated to employees. To do so, consider broad anti-retaliation communication campaigns and training.

Moving beyond policies and check-ins to more risk-based and data-driven retaliation monitoring represents a more sophisticated approach and allows compliance leaders to quantitatively monitor whether retaliation might be happening, detect it proactively and ensure timely and appropriate interventions.

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