You are at work and overhear a discussion between your colleague and a vendor by the water cooler. The vendor asks your colleague about how they can thank them for giving them a staggering amount of business. You don’t quite know how to handle this and so you let this pass. A few days later you hear your colleague talk about a new car they’ve bought. Later you see your colleagues conjecturing if this purchase was really a gift from their vendor. Now, this could perhaps be just a baseless gossip or it could have some truth to it. How should you then go about it? Whistle-blow, perhaps?
According to Wikipedia, a whistleblower “is a person who exposes any kind of information or activity that is deemed illegal, unethical, or not correct within an organization that is either private or public.” But, whistleblowing shouldn’t be done without knowing what’s at stake. Does your office have policies in place to protect you from retaliation? Should you whistle-blow anonymously, email the HR or CEO or make a direct confrontation? Can someone help you gather facts? Or should you let things be?
From an ethical point of you, any misconduct must be reported whether it is the CEO or an office clerk. If there are malpractices rampant at work then it reflects poorly on both the organisation and its employees. Now, if you do decide to report your colleague(s) there are a few things you will have to bear in mind.
Don’t report unthinkingly
The first step to take is not jump to conclusions. Figure out what’s going on behind the scene. Could someone be maligning the colleague who you suspect? To be sure, ask questions. Probe. There are chances that you could have misunderstood the situation? If you don’t want to confront your colleague straightaway just warm up with them with a few questions. In the scenario described above you could say, “so, how long has this vendor been working with us?” or “Lately, I’ve started feeling that the vendor you work with is underperforming. Can we get quotes from other vendors?” Measure their response. They may warm up with you and let out details that could help you build your case.
If you do suspect they are defending the vendor then recede. Don’t threaten them with your questions. Shift focus and start gathering intelligence. Speak with colleagues who’ve worked with the vendor. Find out the kind of business your colleague gave them over the past ‘x’ number of years. Was the work delivered up-to-mark or was it sub-standard? Who decides whether the vendor should be replaced? Who receives quotes from vendors? Is the vendor fee justified? File these facts and if there is a discrepancy then your case is becoming stronger.
Raise an alarm
This comes before filing a report. Speak with someone who you can trust and who can help you find more proof. Make sure you’re not going to someone close to your colleague. The information might just leak.
So, be discreet because every person at work has a confidante who they discuss and gossip with. How about going to the HR or someone who exercises a degree of authority and can help you gain access to more information.
File the report with every piece of proof and evidence you have managed to lay your hands on. If you wish to keep your identity a secret, let the authorities know. Besides, be ready to work closely with the investigation committee. State facts as are. Know that your testimony can help the organisation weed out a wrongdoer. That enough will serve as an example to others to stay off-limits and not abuse their power and seat.
When all’s done-and-dusted don’t go about blowing your trumpet as it will only harm your reputation. Agreed that what you did was commendable, but hey even Sherlock Holmes keeps to himself, doesn’t he?! You did what you had to. Chapter over!
PS: Ever been in the spot of a whistle-blower?