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The EU Whistleblowing Directive: 5 Tips for Delivering Effective Communications and Training Programs

Liz Hornby, Principal Consultant at LEO GRC, shares her thoughts on training best practices for the EU Whistleblowing Directive, reframing negative connotations around the term ‘whistleblowing’, and tips for delivering effective communication and training programs.

There is a growing global trend towards the implementation of organizational-level whistleblowing (speaking up) policies and procedures. For some organizations, this is driven by external legislation or regulation, such as the EU Whistleblowing Protection Directive which comes into force at the end of 2021. For others, the drivers are more internal and are linked to organizational culture and operational resilience.

Whatever the drivers, to be effective, all whistleblowing policies and procedures must be communicated effectively. Indeed, some legislation and regulation specifically requires training programs to be delivered. The EU Whistleblowing Protection Directive, for example, includes a requirement for organizations to communicate their whistleblowing arrangements to their employees and to provide training on how to access internal reporting channels.

You may also like: ‘3 Things You Should Know About the New EU Whistleblower Protection Directive

Engaging Learners on Three Levels

The most effective whistleblowing communication and training programs, like other conduct and behavioral change programs, engage learners on three levels: emotional, logical, and practical. At LEO, we refer to this as ‘Heart, Head, and Hand’ engagement.

Heart: Engaging Learners Emotionally

Messaging here addresses aspects of organizational culture and may include:

  • Applicable aspects of the organization’s values, such as taking responsibility, being open, and listening to others
  • How whistleblowing protects stakeholders, including customers and colleagues
  • How whistleblowing helps the organization to learn from mistakes and put problems right quickly
  • The organization’s zero-tolerance towards retaliation or victimization of those who blow the whistle

Head: Engaging Learners Logically

Messaging here may include:

  • Who and what is covered by the policy, procedure, and any applicable legislation and regulation
  • Protections from retaliation
  • Confidentiality and anonymity
  • Available channels and how they work
  • What to do if you experience retaliation

Hand: Engaging Learners Practically

This aspect is best addressed through practical exercises or scenarios that enable learners to practice what they have learned in a safe environment and to experience what it ‘feels’ like to:

  • Identify a problem
  • Decide to report it
  • Address issues of confidentiality and anonymity
  • Choose a channel
  • Make a report
  • Give feedback
  • Identify retaliation
  • Take action against retaliation

The closer this experience is to an individual’s role, the better.

Recommended reading: ‘5 Ways to Improve Governance, Risk, and Compliance Training at a Distance

So far, so good. But anyone involved in drafting whistleblowing communications and training will know that the messaging can become very complex, very quickly.

Complex Messaging of Whistleblowing Training

The main source of this complexity is the relationship between legislation, regulation, and internal values, and culture. Each of these may, for example, contain different definitions of ‘wrongdoing’ and each may offer protections from retaliation in different circumstances.

This is a challenge for those organizations impacted by the EU Whistleblowing Protection Directive. For example, ‘wrongdoing’ under the EU Directive only covers breaches of specified EU-wide legislation, but the scope may be extended by local legislation. Internal policies may extend it further still.

This complexity is heightened for international organizations attempting to draft globally applicable content. Similar issues may arise in relation to provisions on anonymous reporting and feedback response times.

Whistleblowing or Speaking Up?

Earlier in the article, you will see that the phrase ‘speaking up’ has been used in parenthesis next to the word ‘whistleblowing’. I did this because the positioning of whistleblowing, together with the complexities described above, has led to the term being dropped by many organizations in favor of ‘speaking up’ or similar phrases.

This trend may also reflect a desire to move away from the negative connotations often associated with the term ‘whistleblowing’ in organizational settings.

Handpicked for you: ‘Effective Whistleblowing Arrangements: A Global GRC Priority for the Financial Services Sector and Beyond

So, to conclude, here are five tips for delivering effective communications and training programs on internal whistleblowing (speaking up) arrangements.

5 Top Tips for Creating Best-Practice Whistleblowing Training

1. Be Clear and Precise

This is particularly important in relation to fundamental concepts such as wrongdoing and the availability of legal protections

2. Be Holistic

Make it clear how your organizational culture and applicable regulations and legislation fit together.

3. Maximize Practical Engagement

Use practical exercises and scenarios where possible that enable your learners to experience your process from start to finish.

4. Tailor the Content

Use adaptive learning techniques to create tailored learner journeys. This may include uplift content, for example, for different jurisdictions, line managers, and those authorized to investigate or handle whistleblowing cases within your organization.

5. Consider a Campaign

Whistleblowing is an ideal subject for a learning campaign. Consider encouraging emotional engagement through a teaser campaign, posters, screensavers, and other assets outside of a digital learning course.

Are you looking for expert-led support on whistleblowing to support your organization’s learning goals? Our team is on hand to offer fully tailored support to match your needs. Get in touch today.

Liz Hornby, Compliance Expert

Liz joined LEO GRC in 2010 and works as an in-house Subject Matter Expert. Since joining LEO GRC, Liz has completed a Masters Degree in International Business Ethics and Corporate Governance from the University of London and recently completed a PhD on whistleblowing in the UK banking industry.

After studying at Nottingham and Cambridge Universities, Liz qualified as a barrister and went on to work for both the London Stock Exchange and The Securities Association (a predecessor of the Financial Conduct Authority). She then moved into compliance, working for Nomura International plc and Goldman Sachs, before becoming a compliance consultant in 1994. As a consultant, she advised and worked with a broad range of financial services firms.

Liz was Deputy Chairman of the Compliance Forum Committee of the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investments (CISI) for many years and is a part-time lecturer in Corporate Governance and Ethics at the University of London.

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