Should we pay whistleblowers?

Richard Thompson




If the government intends to move beyond simply protecting whistleblowers from unjust treatment and actively encourage the practice and culture of whistleblowing, they may need to sweeten the deal.

It is a debate that has circulated for years. Should people who blow the whistle be financially rewarded? It is a system that already exists in the US but would a similar model be a sensible choice here in the UK?

The financial sector in particular has seen increased scrutiny and additional regulation over the last year where whistelowing is concerned:- the Senior Managers and Certification Regime has introduced responsibilities on financial firms to create better whistleblowing practices. For me this all comes down to the culture of a workplace - if there is a supportive and open culture where challenge is welcomed and managers are approachable, it almost negates the need for whistleblowing policies and practices - in my eyes it should be an organic process that is part of 'business as usual'. But we all know that whistleblowing has a huge amount of stigma attached so it is not an easy task. I've been doing a lot of training on this lately and in each of the sessions it is clear to me that the discussions centre around culture - if we create the right culture at work, blowing the whistle (or speaking up as I prefer to call it) shouldn't feel like a career-limiting move.

This brings me back to my original question - should we sweeten the deal and pay people who blow the whistle? There is some scope to argue that it might encourage more people to come forward but I have to question whether financial incentives alone will feed into the workplace culture in a positive way. I'm not convinced. Simply having financial incentives in place does not encourage people to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. If we are solely motivated to speak up because money might exchange hands, this isn't necessarily going to create an open and honest workplace culture. Creating that culture is less about money and much more about the human interactions that take place - it is about building trust, fostering approachability, demonstrating support and encouraging people to speak up simply because it is the right thing to do. That is ultimately what the financial regulators want to see and I therefore think the approach is to go back to basics and focus on building good, open and trusting relationships with the people around us in the workplace.