Whistleblowing and Workplace Bullying – An Ethics Resource Center Study

by Jul 21, 2012

Last month the Ethics Resource Center released a survey report regarding whistleblowing and workplace bullying (aka retaliation).

The survey found that 15% of employees who reported misconduct perceived that they were retaliated against. According to the report:

60% reported another employees gave them a cold shoulder
62% reported management excluded them from decisions and work activity
55% were verbally abused by a manager
48% almost lost their job
42% were verbally abused by other employees
43% were not given a promotion or raise
27% were relocated or reassigned
18% were demoted

In other words 15% of the survey respondents reported that they were bullied as a result of their actions.

The report also discusses the value organizational culture plays in an employee’s decision to report. Not surprisingly, if ethics and the value of ethical behavior comes across as a strong message from the top, employees are more likely to report misconduct. In these strong ethical cultures employees felt comfortable reporting misconduct directly to their immediate supervisor because they felt confident the report would be handled immediately and with professionalism. In climates with weak ethical cultures employees felt they could not report the behavior to their immediate supervisor and often went “up the chain” to someone believed to be more reliable in handling the issue.

Retaliation against whistleblowers is certainly nothing new. If it were, Congress would not have enacted laws against it and businesses would not have corporate policies forbidding it. As with anything, circumstances can prevail and although retaliation is illegal in many instances, it doesn’t prevent it from happening.

Unfortunately, as with bullying, psychological repercussions of being retaliated against are pervasive. According to an article published in Current Sociology in 2008 by Rothschild, whistleblowers say they have suffered severe depression, decline in physical health, severe financial decline, and harmed family relationships at home. Many also begin to lose trust in the people around them – distrust becomes a way of life.

The bottom line: Retaliation for whistleblowing IS bullying. As we know, bullying is difficult to prove, especially when managers and human resources professionals everywhere disagree that bullying even exists in the first place. Sigh.

About Catherine Mattice

Catherine Mattice, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is President of consulting and training firm, Civility Partners, and has been successfully providing programs in workplace bullying and building positive workplaces since 2007. Her clients include Fortune 500’s, the military, several universities and hospitals, government agencies, small businesses and nonprofits. She has published in a variety of trade magazines and has appeared several times on NPR, FOX, NBC, and ABC as an expert, as well as in USA Today, Inc Magazine, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, and more. Catherine is Past-President of the Association for Talent Development (ATD), San Diego Chapter and teaches at National University. In his book foreword, Ken Blanchard called her book, BACK OFF! Your Kick-Ass Guide to Ending Bullying at Work, “the most comprehensive and valuable handbook on the topic.” She recently released a second book entitled, SEEKING CIVILITY: How Leaders, Managers and HR Can Create a Workplace Free of Bullying.

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