How compliance leaders can encourage employees to report misconduct

As Chief Compliance Officers (CCOs) continue to face challenges in restoring employee misconduct reporting to pre-pandemic levels, there are three strategies they should implement to increase confidence in their processes among employees, according to Gartner.

employee misconduct reporting

“There are clearly structural challenges that have impaired effective misconduct reporting, ranging from new working models, to higher employee turnover, and increased societal polarization,” said Chris Audet, VP, research, in the Gartner Legal, Risk & Compliance practice. “While CCOs can’t fully mitigate those factors, they can drive significant improvements in reporting rates by addressing employee perceptions of the credibility and transparency of misconduct reporting policies.”

Gartner research has indicated that compliance reporting has decreased by 30% in the years since the pandemic started, primarily as a result of changes to how and where employees work. At the same time, CCOs report to Gartner that they are seeing an increase in harassment, bullying, and discrimination incidents across their organizations.

A study of 1,003 employees in the second quarter of 2022 showed that only 42% thought their organizations had a transparent reporting process. The same survey showed that by improving an employee’s trust in the reporting process from the bottom decile to the top decile increased their likelihood to report misconduct by 38%.

Three strategies to restore trust

By assessing employees’ current perceptions of the reporting process, Gartner experts identified three effective strategies to encourage employees to speak up when they witness misconduct.

1. Clarify employee expectations upfront – Failure to provide a detailed map of the internal investigation process leads to incorrect employee assumptions about it. Leading companies share the steps the process will take upfront and communicate key information about each process step to assure employees that their reports will not be ignored.

“Many organizations use privacy concerns to obscure the details of their investigation process from employees unnecessarily,” said Audet. “Employees can still be alerted to the progress of an investigation, and thereby remain engaged throughout the process, even if certain details need to remain redacted to protect privacy. Companies can also be transparent about the issues they cannot, and choose not, to disclose, which can hold additional value for employees.”

2. Publicize real employee experiences of the reporting process – Audet said organizations must go beyond mandated top-down data reports on their investigations and solicit specific employee feedback on where the process can be improved and overall satisfaction with the investigation’s process. This type of employee feedback, which can be collected in surveys or post-investigation check-ins, helps employees better envision themselves in a similar situation and can provide increases confidence in a successful resolution.

3. Demonstrate transparency and consistency in investigation outcomes – CCOs often refrain from communicating disciplinary outcomes out of fear of betraying confidentiality, potentially further disillusioning employees who perceive inconsistency with how misconduct is managed within their organizations. While CCOs cannot entirely overcome this challenge without the partnership of HR and other functions, they can take a leading role in communicating their company’s misconduct escalation standards, demonstrate that the standards are being applied consistently across the organization, and choose to publicize the outcomes of specific misconduct cases in corporate bulletin boards or compliance newsletters.

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