Frequently, to gain more organizational benefits, companies act in a way that could be potentially harmful to the society or some of its members and, in this way, could be considered unethical. When practicing this kind of behavior, organizations usually close information about their activities so it can be accessed only from the inside. Many cases of disclosing unethical organizational behavior are known nowadays, and people who conveyed the truth to the public are commonly called whistle-blowers. However, although whistle-blowers may be regarded as heroes because they aim to protect public benefits, they often encounter a lot of threats to their individual well-being. The given controversy associated with whistleblowing points at the lack of efficient legal and social protection for this type of public disclosure.
Whistleblowing can be defined as an act of revealing organizational wrongdoing to the public or authorities (Provance, 2016). As stated by Grace and Cohen (2010), it usually implies an externally oriented action based on the attempts to avoid, prevent, or remove evil, and do good. Whistle-blowers have an internal motivation to act ethically, and their decisions to reveal some potentially unjust organizational behaviors to the public can often be provoked by the management’s neglect of the reported problems and unwillingness to solve them.
Corporate ethics or principles of business conduct is a sensitive issue, and many organizations try to protect this kind of information from the external interventions. Moreover, many organizations design strict terms and conditions of information disclosure and expect employees to follow them. Companies may also communicate the risks of revealing internal information to subordinates in the documents prior to employment. Therefore, it takes a lot of courage, and confidence for a person to inform on organizational misconduct.
An act of whistleblowing is rather unusual behavior. The majority of employees do not make any efforts to reveal the closed corporate information even if they consider that their companies may do wrong. Whistleblowing is associated with many threats including job loss, prosecution, excess psychological pressure, damaged social life, etc. (Grace & Cohen, 2010). While the majority of people may see whistle-blowers as heroes, others (e.g., colleagues, managers, and some other stakeholders) may regard them as “treasonous” villains (Provance, 2016, p. 1). And it is possible to say that the situation in which people prefer to keep silence and fear of retribution for being honest is stimulated by the lack of legal support and underdeveloped culture of business ethics.
While, nowadays, some legal protection to whistle-blowers is provided in the public sector, it remains largely challenged in private businesses (Grace & Cohen, 2010). Whistleblowing is likely to be disapproved by the management and employee involved in the case would likely be dismissed under any convenient excuse (e.g., unsatisfactory results obtained in psychological testing, unsuitability to a current position, etc.). Although the publicity of the case may provide some protection, the majority of whistle-blowers lose their jobs (Grace & Cohen, 2010).
Another significant threat of whistleblowing is damage to the physical and mental health of accusers. Publicity, concerns about the consequences and risks of information disclosure, etc. are associated with extremely high levels of stress. Moreover, when trying to prove their own rightfulness, individuals may appear to be a bit obsessive (Grace & Cohen, 2010). As a result, the psychological state of a whistle-blower can compromise his/her image in public. Based on this, it is possible to say that organizations can use any chance to discredit their accusers in case they want to do so.
Adverse impacts of whistleblowing on individual life emphasize the need for change in the universal principles of business conduct. Honesty and ethical behavior should not be regarded as something unusual but rather should be promoted by organizations. As Grace and Cohen (2010) suggest, substantial changes should be made in organizational reporting systems. Organizations in various sectors need to practice transparency on a regular basis. In this way, it will be possible to minimize the damage to whistle-blowers’ welfare.
Grace, D., & Cohen, S. (2010). Business ethics. Australia: Oxford University Press.
Provance, S. (2015). Ethics of whistleblowing. OpEdNews. Web.