How To Promote the Use and Success of Your Ethics Hotline

October 8, 2020

Ethics is one of the fundamental building blocks of a successful business. As a compliance practitioner, HR manager or executive, you know the detriment your company faces when ethics are thrown out the window. Most mindful companies will implement ethics hotlines or other means of confidential reporting of violations of ethics standards. If employees are not utilizing these resources, you won’t know about problems until they’re too late, or can’t address them.

How do you make employees feel safe about using your ethics hotline?

Introducing the Basic Principles of Ethics in Your Company

The first step of introducing ethics into your company’s compliance structure is through your Code of Conduct. If you have a well-written Code of Conduct, it will clearly state your company’s mission, values, and principles. All of this will link to the company’s standards of professional conduct.

Your company’s Code of Conduct is also a guide for employees to reference, supporting the decisions they make daily. You can facilitate a healthy relationship between your Code of Conduct, ethics policies, and employees through regular training. ComplianceLine offers Ethics & Compliance Awareness Programs that communicate policy changes while also keeping your employees up on ethics and compliance training.

Promote the Ethics Hotline

When implementing an ethics hotline within your company, you need to make sure that you promote it positively. Believe it or not, employees often don’t use a company’s ethics line because (even though it may have been brought up during onboarding) they don’t have functional knowledge that brings it to mind when problems arise.

Beyond telling them it exists, keep employees engaged by making the training relatable! Use real-life scenarios within your company and use them as examples for the ethics hotline awareness training.

What Employees Should Learn by the End of Training

By the time your employees have received their training on the Code of Conduct and the ethics hotline, they should be able to:

  • Identify and categorize an actual ethics breach
  • Understand how to use the ethics hotline and resources correctly
  • Know what to expect from and how to track the claim they made

When you facilitate training for the company’s Code of Conduct and the ethics hotline, it reduces the excuse, “we were never told that.” More importantly, quality training moves past that defensiveness to get real ROI from your ethics program since employees take action. Engaging and contextualized messages are retained and drive ethical decisions.

Spreading the Word

Training employees on the principles in your Code of Conduct and using an ethics hotline is more than just plastering posters on the breakroom walls. Suppose the rules are not implemented, and the employees are never formally trained. In that case, these types of reminders are no more than decorations on a wall.

With a foundation of engaging formal training, posters and other media (digital and physical) can be used as reminder tools. The idea is to keep the employees engaged with ethics in the context where they’re likely to apply the lessons, not tucked away in a filing cabinet. Using tangible reminders like posters and wallet cards can be a quick reference when an employee is unsure of what they should do.

Making the Training Relatable

Your Code of Conduct means nothing and the ethics hotline becomes useless if you are not efficiently implementing the policies. ComplianceLine provides a Code of Conduct review that allows you to see where your company may be lacking in the compliance area of ethics. With this review, you will be able to:

  • Articulate and define your company values and culture
  • Provide alignment while maintaining clarity
  • Comply with regulations
  • Keep the topics and materials up-to-date
  • Drive the employees’ engagement, thus reducing risk

Having the proper materials, like visual aids, to further engage employees keeps the training fresh. This way, you don’t need to retrain as often. These visual aids can help remind employees that reporting ethics violations is a way to courageously protect their peers and a part of their job. If you expect them to shuffle through a mound of documents to take action, you’re bound to waste your ethics budget.

Provide Consistency

The best way to ensure that the Code of Conduct and ethics hotlines are understood is through training sessions. The best training sessions are short, attention-holding training sessions spread throughout the year. Throw together a last-minute lunch training refresher to go over any changes since the last training or simply go over the number of (anonymized) reported ethics violations.

Just like you can’t correct the problems you don’t know about, your employees can’t fix the actions they don’t know are violations. Keeping meetings about compliance reports fun and engaging can make it feel less intimidating for your employees. They will retain the information if it is more lighthearted and relatable.

Eliminating the Negative View of Ethics Hotline

Retaliation is one of the main reasons that an employee will refuse to speak up about ethics violations. The term “whistleblower” is often used to describe an employee who reports a violation. Removing the word’s negative connotation, the employee is just doing their duty to the company by reporting perceived ethics violations in good faith.

To combat the fears of being labeled a disloyal or worse, ethics hotlines should all properly prioritize confidentiality. Discussing these types of breaches in ethics might be a sensitive conversation. The conversation might even make the employee reporting it uncomfortable. That is why ethics hotlines are often handled by third-party organizations and with greater assurance of confidentiality. It’s critical to realize that, in addition to functional safeguards like third party anonymity protection, the tone and experience when reporting can help or hinder the transparency you need from employees.

Multiple Methods of Ethics Reporting

A restaurant menu doesn’t have one meal item listed – it has options. The same should apply when reporting ethics violations within the workplace. Using multiple methods of reporting can open up more opportunities for reporting to happen.

More than one reporting channel – Providing employees with a phone and web-based ethics reporting system offers more opportunities for violation reporting. Mobile apps, in-person, texting, and other channels should be used depending on your workforce profile. These can go a long way toward making a clear statement about your dedication to employee involvement.

Availability around the clock – Ethics violations may happen during business hours, but reporting them must not be restricted. Many employees would rather wait until they are in the comfort of their own home to report the violation because they feel safe. They also may not have the time or the privacy while at work or on the clock. The ethics hotline or reporting method should be available at all hours.

Multilingual approach – English is not always the first language of an employee, even in an English-dominant company culture. Trying to say what they want to say might be best understood in their native tongue. The most successful ethics hotlines provide support in every relevant language.

Work with a Third-Party Hotline Provider

Using a hotline that is facilitated and managed by a third-party provides your employees with the highest level of assurance that calls are confidential. For you, the ethics expert, HR manager or executive, you can receive reports explaining the types of calls coming into the hotline, allowing you to adjust your training and management methods. Critically, the right third-party vendor can provide expertise, scalability, and efficiency to make it all work within your budget and risk mitigation needs.

ComplianceLine wants to help you put your Code of Conduct, ethics, and other compliance factors at the heart of your culture. With the tools we provide, you can empower your employees to help you create a company built on those fundamental building blocks – the ethical ones.