Why healthy organizations teach employees how to report misconduct in the workplace
Engagement 4 minute read

Why healthy organizations teach employees how to report misconduct in the workplace

Megan Orr | November 9, 2021

Every organization—no matter how big or small—should have clear policies and procedures in place so employees know how to report misconduct in the workplace. Here’s why and how.

Workplace misconduct can be common in even the most positive organizations. From difficult coworkers and harassment to potentially lawbreaking behaviours, there’s a wide range of misconduct that can take place in any workplace. It’s important for employees to know which behaviours go against company policy and how to report misconduct in the workplace. Left unreported, these issues can run rampant, leading to good employees searching for work elsewhere and your organization getting a reputation for being a toxic workplace. 

Employees not knowing how to report misconduct in the workplace doesn’t just lead to a toxic work environment—it can also be downright dangerous. Research shows that “93% of people say their organization is at risk of an accident waiting to happen because people are either unwilling or unable to speak up”. 

Additionally, not dealing with misconduct can lead to what The Harvard Business Review calls “resource-sapping behaviours”. The Harvard Business Review’s research subjects admitted to behaviours such as “complaining to others (78%), doing extra or unnecessary work (66%), ruminating about the problem (53%), or getting angry (50%)”. Silence around misconduct does a number on an organization, damaging “employee engagement, relationships, deadlines, budgets, and culture”.

The first step in ensuring employees know how to report misconduct in the workplace is making it clear that you want them to report any wrongdoing. 

A survey shows that only “63% of employees believe that their workplace wants wrongdoing reported”, which means that “37% of workplace leadership is either sending the message that they don't want workplace wrongdoing reported, or they're not sending any message at all”.

Many employees also worry that they will face retaliation when bringing issues forward. Research shows that upwards of 75% of employees who raised an issue suffered negative consequences. Retaliation can take the form of shaming, shunning, loss of opportunities, demotion, and—in extreme cases—being let go. Employees should also have the option to report misconduct anonymously, which will alleviate fears of retaliation. In many instances, employees also don’t report misconduct because they don’t think anything will actually be done. 

If you want to foster a positive company culture, it’s essential that issues of misconduct be discussed. There’s often the desire to sweep any problems under the rug, but this creates what The Harvard Business Review calls “a culture of silence”, where employees feel like they can’t bring issues up.  

The Harvard Business Review writes that employees should have the safety and security in the workplace to not think about the risk associated with reporting misconduct, but rather the risk associated with not reporting misconduct. 

It’s important to have clear reporting procedures in place, that include who an employee should speak to in order to escalate an issue—such as when their direct manager hasn’t dealt with the problem, or is perhaps a part of the problem themselves. What happens if HR hasn’t handled the problem or has offered an inadequate solution? What if the offending employee wants to deal with the issue without getting management involved?

There are many different scenarios—some that are easier to anticipate than others—that should be included in a misconduct policy. This policy should include clear definitions of what misconduct is according to your company guidelines, what the results of misconduct are (e.g. disciplinary action, up to and including termination), how to report misconduct in the workplace, who to report misconduct to, what happens if the behaviours continue, etc. 

By having clear guidelines in place for how to report misconduct in the workplace, you are demonstrating to your employees that you care about their wellbeing. Additionally, clear policies around misconduct will not only protect your employees but your organization as well.

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