When we speak of non-retaliation, it’s often in an effort to encourage staff to speak up. Right now, lack of speaking up isn’t the problem. Retaliation itself, rather than employee silence, is running rampant, harming our cultures of integrity. Mary Shirley discusses some of the data around the culture-of-integrity crisis and provides a guide detailing an actionable way to address the issue in your organization.
Remember that time during the pandemic when everyone was being gracious, generous and kind to fellow human beings because we were going through a global public health crisis and it reminded us to be thankful for what we had and treat each other well?
If you hadn’t noticed, that grace period is well and truly over. On the roads, in public spaces, our workplaces and sometimes even within our own households, we’re brusque, impatient and not as nice as we could be. If you don’t find yourself nodding away to this, I have the data to back it up — at least when it comes to workplace incivility.
According to Ethics & Compliance Initiative’s 2022 global business ethics survey, retaliation rates at medium-sized firms have reached 90%, while overall, 82% of those who report workplace misconduct experience retaliation. Insert horrified emoji here!
Are we conditioning our employees not to speak up? The traits present in our best employees might make them less likely to raise issues, concerns and ideas. Compliance expert Courtney Sander explores integrating speaking-up practice within the business to benefit your compliance program and the broader organization.
Why Our Best Employees Don’t Speak Up
Are we conditioning our employees not to speak up? The traits present in our best employees might make them less likely to raise issues, concerns and ideas. Compliance expert Courtney Sander explores integrating speaking-up practice within the business to benefit your compliance program and the broader organization.Read more
As we emerge from the pandemic, it’s clear there’s a culture-of-integrity crisis in our workplaces. Carrie Penman, chief risk and compliance officer for Navex, reported in October that her company would soon implement a new reporting system category to record allegations of workplace incivility. (A recent Navex webinar further reinforced the civility decline, indicating that reported and substantiated cases of retaliation, harassment and discrimination have all climbed.)
So what can we as ethics and compliance professionals do to address some of this?
The first thing is take a look in the mirror at our own behaviors. Are we being short and cranky with those around us at home, the office or in society generally? If so, be more mindful of this outward projection and remember that as the face of the ethics program in our organization, it’s not a good look if we aren’t operating to the highest levels of integrity.
For those whose self-awareness meter isn’t exactly full after getting caught in the everyday grind and coming out of the other side of the pandemic, I offer a simple question for reflection: Have I been showing up, in all areas of my life, in the ways I want others to perceive me? Hypocrisy is a poor role model, and in my observations, colleagues are sure to criticize it if they see it — and rightly so. If that sounds preachy, well, that’s because it is.
Another method for triggering mindfulness in yourself and team members is to do the elevator exercise to commence a team meeting. Have everyone go around the room and share what elevator level they are at. If it’s high, they’re functioning at their best and feeling optimistic and content. The middle may be curious, subdued, pondering or neutral. And, of course, being at the bottom means experiencing lows, negativity, stress and so on.
It’s a vulnerable and authentic way to bond with and establish empathy before getting down to business and provides context for individual behavior or tone for the remainder of the meeting. It also allows everyone a moment to reflect upon how they are showing up in the moment.
The second thing is to consider the data discussed above as a nudge to us that it’s an essential time to communicate and educate again on non-retaliation and how to receive reports.
Consider offering a management session to give them examples of retaliation that go beyond the obvious — termination, pay cuts and withholding promotion opportunities — to include ones that might not be top-of-mind, changes in work duties or hours, being excluded from work activities or not being told about department social activities.
In ECI’s survey, most examples of retaliation were occurring at rates of at least 20% across organizations of all sizes. People need to understand what adverse actions can look like so that they can report them but also so that they can avoid engaging in them. And it’s not just managers who can play a part in retaliation, as you can see from the examples. My critical recommendation for these management sessions is to bill them as such but for the following reasons, invite everyone to attend. Why?
- It’s not just managers who can dole out retaliation — exclusion and ignoring of reporters by peers can be very harmful.
- Colleagues will get a chance to see how management is held accountable to the company’s zero-tolerance approach to non-retaliation
- Lower-level team members are the managers of tomorrow; it’s never too early to learn good behaviors.
When it comes to how to receive reports, a step-by-step process and explanation as to why each step is important is a good way to help managers understand what is expected of them in your training session. Potential steps could look like this:
- Take the report seriously. It takes a lot of courage to come forward. Acknowledge that if appropriate.
- Thank the colleague sincerely for providing the information — it is a gift.
- Ask for as much information as you can, including checking whether there might be any supporting documentation to provide.
- Assure the reporter that you will be acting immediately by informing the investigations department.
- Ask the reporter if they would like to remain anonymous and honor their wishes.
- Provide the information to the investigations department — do not investigate yourself.
- Remember to treat the reporter as you normally would and keep the matter confidential.
Go a step further and turn the key aspects of the steps into a one-page reference sheet so that if the training occurred a while ago, you have a just-in-time training tool for managers to have on hand when they need it.
If you liked these ideas, keep your eyes peeled for my upcoming book with many more ideas on how to level up your compliance program. Coming in 2023! Partner with HR to work on anti-harassment and anti-discrimination initiatives. Let’s combat this crisis together!
Are you doing anything novel or innovative to train, educate and raise awareness on non-retaliation? Share it with the compliance community — it would make a great LinkedIn post! I, for one, would love to hear about it.