Concept of Whistleblower

The people who will report and notify unethical behaviors and wrongdoings in organizations, i.e. to initiate the reporting process, are the former or current employees. Therefore, these people are conceptualized as actor, i.e. whistleblower (Yarmaci, 2018:76).

A whistleblower discloses information about unethical behaviors or other wrongdoing being committed in or by an organization to individuals or entities believed to be able to effect action.

Employees with high organizational commitment are more prone to the act of whistleblowing Opens in new window than other employees (Ozdemir, 2015: 19).

Whistleblowers find more evidence of wrongdoing than observers who do not perform the act of whistleblowing.

Whistleblowers are also those who are personally more affected from mistakes/wrongdoings they observe compared to other employees (Miceli and Near, 1985:537).

There is a fundamental dilemma in organizations in terms of the impact of whistleblowers (Aktan, 2006:4), which can also be called “unauthorized voluntary auditors”.

From one point of view they can reduce the prevalence of illegal activities in organizations because they provide valuable information that can help to increase organizational effectiveness. On the other hand, it undermines the authority structure of the organization (especially the manager’s right to make decisions) leading the organization to chaos and anarchy.

Heller (1983) documented the decline and impacts of whistleblowers in the organization and leader authority, pointing out the effects of reduced commitment and decreased task performance.

Therefore, some authors encouraged organizations to consider the benefits of whistleblowers, while others investigated the threatening effects of organizations for their authority structures and operations (Near and Miceli, 1985:1-2).

Rothschild and Miethe (1999:125) see whistleblowers in their study as traitors who violate organizational loyalty norms on one hand, but on the other hand they see them as heroic advocates of values that are considered to be more important than company loyalty (for example, public health, truth in advertising, respect for the environment).

Miceli and Near (1985:526) also express whistleblowers as people who will help organizations to improve their unsafe products/services and working conditions or prevent fraud/waste practices, but they think that whistleblowers threaten the authority structure of the organization at the same time (Miceli and Near, 1985:526).

Similarly, Hersh argues in his study (2002:244) that whistleblowing Opens in new window is an ethical and commendable act, but he also sees them as those who betray their colleagues and the organizations in which they are working.

The possibility of whistleblowers to perform the act of whistleblowing is increased with the possibility of whistleblowing to make the desired change in the organization, feeling of whistleblower to be ready for retaliation s/he will face with, as well as the whistleblower’s belief that whistleblowing has a great importance (Near and Miceli, 1985:8).

The lack of appropriate channels or access to these channels for whistleblowers to communicate their complaints reduces the likelihood of whistleblowing. The awareness of complaint channels increases whistleblowers’ ability to act (Near and Miceli, 1985:7). The employee first decides whether the observed activity is actually wrong/illegal during the relevant process.

If the employee’s values or the values determined by the organization conflict with the ones observed, and there is clear evidence about the wrong, they are more likely to think what is done is wrong. But even under these circumstances, many employees do not perform whistleblowing Opens in new window.

Reporting unlawful and unethical behaviors depends on several factors.

  • These factors are that whistleblowers see wrongdoings that are serious,
  • know there are places where they can report them, and
  • believe that whistleblowing will be effective (end of wrongdoing).

In addition, factors such as:

  • whether they have alternative sources of financial and emotional support,
  • what costs will be personally and whether their personal characteristics are likely to take such a step affect whistleblowers’ decisions (Near and Miceli, 1985:4).

The act of whistleblowers to object to wrong behaviors and practices in order to protect their moral human images is motivated by their awareness of this issue rather than their beliefs (Hersh, 2002:250).

The supporters of whistleblowers include professional communities, reporters, law-makers, religious leaders as well as community and campaign groups (Hersh, 2002:253).

The support of family and friends plays a very important role for whistleblowers in the process. While some whistleblowers can get a lot of support, others can experience divorce or loss of friends due to whistleblowing actions Opens in new window (Hersh, 2002:254).

Whistleblowing literature shows that external whistleblowers have more effectiveness than internal whistleblowers. Rothschild and Miethe (1999:126) think that external whistleblowing has more effect on eliminating or correcting illegal, unethical and improper practices compared to internal whistleblowing.

Since external whistleblowers have attracted the attention of external stakeholders such as media, government agencies and consumer groups, the organization feels more pressure to seriously address and respond to the claims.

On the other hand, the organization is more likely to ignore employee’s complaints or claims when the whistleblower uses internal channels (Dworkin and Baucus, 1998:1286).

Beside, external whistleblowers tend to experience greater retaliation, including unfair dismissal within the organization, compared to internal whistleblowers (Dworkin and Baucus, 1998:1286).

It has been found that employees who have served as a supervisor in the organization for more than four years encounter less risk of retaliation than new employees (Miethe, 1999; Hersch, 2002:252).

Managers see external whistleblowers as traitor/unfaithful and apply forms of retaliation prior to the firing to them to leave the organization. Retaliation processes take place in four stages:

  • Nullification — The process first begins with nullification or attempts to persuade whistleblower to withdraw the complaint against the firm through verbal harassment, condemnation or criticism of business performance.
  • Isolation — Then, the next step is the isolation stage of the whistleblower from other employees within the organization and the work through relocating, restricting activities, access to information or other sources.
  • Defamation — The third stage is to defame and slander the whistleblower by trying to discredit her/him.
  • Expulsion — The final stage is to force whistleblower to voluntarily or involuntarily leave the organization (O’Day, 1972; Dworkin and Baucus, 1998:1287).
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