The Professionalism Content Development Working Group (PCDWG) has developed new video case studies and additional resource material on the theme of 'Speaking up', 'Whistleblowing' and 'An open culture in organisations' accessible via the website. Jim Baxter of the Inter-Disciplinary Ethics Applied Centre, University of Leeds, sets the scene on behalf of the PCDWG for the IFoA's 2014/2015 online professional skills content.
Whistleblowing is a key pillar of efforts to protect the public from the consequences of unethical and illegal behaviour. The number of reports to the whistleblowing helpline run by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has increased by 64% since April 2013, and by 414% since 2008/9, according to figures from Pinsent Masons.
Nonetheless, many staff who witness unethical behaviour in the workplace fear a backlash if they make a report. These concerns are not without warrant: whistleblowers often face retaliation, both overt (threats, bullying, dismissal) and more subtle (ostracism by colleagues, missing out on promotions).
Formal whistleblowing is just one example of ways in which concerns can be raised. Sometimes it is possible to speak out less formally, simply by talking to a colleague or your line manager. Where this option is available, outcomes are usually better both for the individual and the organisation. Isolated problems can be addressed before they become unmanageable, and the risk of retaliation to the person speaking out is less severe. But sometimes there is no choice but to take a more formal route. Options then might include using an internal whistleblowing hotline, speaking to Public Concern at Work, to the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries, directly to the FCA or, in extreme cases, going to the press.
The decision whether to speak out is one with a complex ethical dimension. Judgment is required to know when raising concerns is justified, and when it is obligatory. Understanding your professional obligations as set out in codes of conduct is obviously important. It is also important to develop an understanding of key ethical concepts. For example, what does it mean for a disclosure to be 'in the public interest'? How can we negotiate the sometimes conflicting values of openness and confidentiality?
The responsibilities of employers are, of course, just as important. In an organisation with an open culture, employees will feel they can speak out if they have concerns, and that those concerns will be taken seriously. Leaders need to be proactive in ensuring that employees are encouraged to come forward, and that those doing so are protected from retaliation.
The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries, working with the University of Leeds, has developed a case study built around these considerations. In the case study, an actuary becomes concerned that her organisation is advertising an investment fund in a potentially misleading manner. What should she do?
You can read the case study here
You can view Pinsent Masons' figures on whistleblowing here
View events on this topic here