When Sherron Watkins spoke to Kenneth Lay about the faulty accounting practices being implemented at Enron and the subsequent crash of the company, insiders described the workplace environment as highly secretive and autocratic. Of course, that is not surprising, because when information this sensitive is leaked, all aspects of a company are then in turmoil.
By the very nature of how these scenarios typically play out, no one knows who leaked the information, what they said and, often times most troubling, what else they could say. When an employee brings nefarious dealings to the attention of others, the internal reactions can wreak havoc on the day to day environment as a whole, as well as overall company culture.
Employee-Employer Relationships After Whistleblowing
Whistleblowing naturally forces employers into a very defensive position. When serious information has been leaked to the public, the ramifications may range from public embarrassment to severe repercussions for the entire company, all the way up to organizational collapse.
The positive effects of whistleblowing typically initiate compliance and screening standards which weren’t present before, resulting in a better run organization.
Corporate espionage, even though it sounds like something out of a James Bond movie, is a major risk for many corporations. If competitors find out about a company’s long term organizational plans or any new products in development, it can severely hamper their business plans.
Front line managers typically become more intense about screening, micro-managing, and they plausibly won’t share more information than absolutely necessary with their employees because they simply can’t risk it. Ultimately, in this defensive posture, workers start chafing under these tight chains and often get severely dissatisfied. With this comes increased conflict, possibly resulting in mass resignations and general malaise within the company that has come under fire and whose culture has disintegrated into a less than pleasant environment in which to work.
In an ideal world, no one would bend any rules and we would all work with the highest levels of ethics as well as professionalism to get the job done. However, that’s hardly ever the case 100% of the time. The result of whistleblowing is that employees are put under substantially more pressure than ever before.
If jobs and livelihoods are at stake due to a sudden breach of trust by an anonymous source, who just might be the person sitting next to you, employees are naturally thrown into a defensive position as well. After someone blows the whistle, spontaneous conversations die out, the workplace is tense, and interpersonal relations in the workplace often dissolve. The workplace becomes more of a machine that keeps on churning out work robotically, often at the cost of personal pride in the work experience.
Managing the Ramifications
It is extremely important for companies that have experienced having someone within their organization shine the light on mismanagement, and potentially unethical or illegal conduct, to immediately address the situation, and deal with it head on.
Taking responsibility for the situation and vowing to make improvements goes a long way in remedying the damage. Arranging to have team building exercises, where professionals come in and work with the company as a whole, as well as different teams within the organization, can do wonders in restoring a pleasant work environment.
Having an employee share less than flattering information about the inner workings of a company is certainly not what any business owner or management team would desire. But by tackling the issues head on, and actively working to restore a sense of comradery and pride in what the company stands for, many companies have emerged from these types of situations stronger than ever.