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We have published Whistleblowing: the inside story with the University of Greenwich (Work and Employment Relations Unit) which analyses the experiences of 1,000 whistleblowers.

Whistleblowing: the inside story - main report

Media coverage


The vast majority of individuals do not raise a concern externally, which is why this report has been called _Whistleblowing: the inside story. _It tells the lesser known, but far more common experience of whistleblowing. The report follows the whistleblower’s journey, starting with the type of concern they have, the reactions they expect and experience from colleagues and managers, through to when they call for advice. This journey is often fraught with threats, fears and contradictions, and can be incredibly stressful for the individual involved.

Key findings

Profile of a whistleblower: The evidence from this research shows that the typical whistleblower is a skilled worker or professional who has been working for less than two years, who is concerned about wrongdoing that is on-going and affects wider society, and has been occurring for less than six months.

Two chances for employers: Employers have up to two opportunities to listen to staff as the concern is usually raised at most twice with line then middle management.

Institutional silence: Whistleblowers are most likely to experience no response from management either to them personally or to the concern that has been raised.

Reprisal short of dismissal: Despite dismissal being the most feared response, the most common response is formal reprisal, e.g. written warning or disciplinary. This could be due to a fear of litigation, showing that the law is at least in part working. However, more must be done to protect workers before dismissal.

Seniority matters: Staff on a more junior level are more likely to be ignored than those in senior positions, who are more likely to be dismissed.

Persistence required but carries risk: For the few who raise a concern a third or fourth time it is at this point it becomes more likely that the matter will be addressed but also more likely that the whistleblower will be dismissed or subjected to reprisal.

Oversight matters: those who raise a concern with a regulator have better outcomes.

Organisations are better at handling wrongdoing than whistleblowers: in half of the cases where final outcomes were available the wrongdoing had been stopped but most individuals were still struggling on some level.

Cathy James CEO of Public Concern at Work said:

“Public inquiries and scandals across many sectors have highlighted the vital role that whistleblowing can play in the early detection and prevention of harm. But too often questions are asked after the damage is done. From the LIBOR banking scandal, the Mid-Staffordshire hospital inquiry and the Leveson inquiry into phone hacking, it is clear that staff did express concern that wrongdoing or malpractice was taking place. The worrying truth is that they are often ignored or worse, discouraged, ostracised or victimised.”

“Media attention on whistleblowing makes for contradictory reading: ministers and employers say whistleblowing is vital for an open and transparent workplace culture, but ask the whistleblowers and the story is starkly different: they are gagged in the NHS, arrested in our police forces and blacklisted in many industries. “

“The combination of the findings in our report demonstrate why speaking up in the workplace may seem futile or dangerous to many individuals. While organisations may be getting better at addressing wrongdoing, they are still shooting the messenger and overlooking crucial opportunities to address concerns quickly and effectively. “

Too many workers still suffer reprisal which will not only impact negatively on the whistleblower, but will deter others from speaking up and allow a culture of silence to pervade. We must learn from past mistakes and make sure that whistleblowing protects individuals, organisations and society as a whole.”

This report shows that the effectiveness of whistleblowing in the UK must be reviewed. To this end Public Concern at Work has established a Whistleblowing Commission which will examine the existing arrangements for workplace whistleblowing and make recommendations for change. The findings of Whistleblowing: the inside story will be considered in detail by the Commission.

Media for Whistleblowing: The inside story

Cathy James Radio 5 Live 40 minutes

Cathy James BBC London 1 hour 8 minutes

Cathy James BBC Wales 1 hour 38 minutes

Francesca West Policy Director and Seth Freedman BBC Newcastle 1 hour 25 minutes

Cathy James BBC Radio Shropshire 9 minutes

Cathy James World Business Report (World TV )

Cathy James BBC Northhampton 15 minutes

Public Concern at Work survey shows UK whistleblowing in need of review, Pooja Kondhia, _Governance and Compliance, 29 May 2013

Whistleblowers' claims of wrongdoing being ignored, Rajeev Syal, The Guardian, 14 May 2013

Speaking Up For Speaking Out, Seth Freedman, Huffington Post, 14 May 2013