Back to basics... Whistleblowing hotlines

Our back to basics series brings you top tips from industry experts on the bread and butter areas of HR

Why does it matter?

Whistleblowing hotlines enable employees to alert their workplace to misconduct issues. They can be internally administered by the organisation itself or provided by specialist independent partners. These platforms give HR teams a better chance of identifying misconduct risks (such as bullying or sexual harassment) and preventing harm to employees and other stakeholders.


Set (positive) objectives. Having positive intentions will build goodwill and trust among employees, while clear objectives will make it easier to communicate your service and measure success.

Get board-level backing. The ‘tone from the top’ will heavily influence employees’ willingness to raise concerns – and therefore the success of your hotline. The more involved your senior figures are the better. Above all they must ‘walk the walk’ when it comes to promoting ethical practices.

Promote it properly. Effective promotion is critical to the success of your hotline. Take care with the language and imagery you use. Use communication channels appropriate for your entire employee base, and make sure people can access information easily but discreetly.

Make it accessible. Offer reporting channels that reflect the needs and circumstances of your employees. For instance, a Web portal may be convenient for office-based employees but not for those on the shop floor. Others may feel safer raising concerns outside of working hours, or in their native language.

Be transparent. Be as open as possible about who will see reports, who your investigators are and how the process works. You may also be able to share anonymised case studies to show the positive effects of speaking up. If an employee is uncertain about the process it may discourage them from coming forward with concerns.


View it in isolation. Just because you have reporting channels available doesn’t mean people will use them. Company policies, organisational culture and past responses to unethical behaviour are just some of the factors that will influence employees willingness to use your hotline.

Put up barriers to reporting. Insisting staff first raise a concern with a line manager or limiting staff availability or access to your reporting channels are two of the most common barriers you should aim to avoid.

Prevent anonymous reporting. While anonymous reports can make investigations more difficult, the information shared can be highly valuable. Outlawing anonymity could send out a negative message and limit the effectiveness of your hotline.

Treat reports as a ‘transaction’. Speaking up often requires a great deal of emotional strength. The empathy employees are shown will influence whether they share detailed information or their own identity. Treating reports purely as an information exchange will do little to encourage people to engage.

Expect results immediately. If you’re introducing a hotline for the first time you may encounter uncertainty or even suspicion. By designing your service around the people you want to use it, you will quickly build trust and increase your chances of success.

John Wilson is chief executive of Expolink