Put your Helpline on the front lines

Use your Helpline to manage coronavirus concerns and stay ahead of the curve

Coronavirus swept in late last year and abruptly changed life as we know it. But in our recent webinars and an upcoming episode of our podcast The Ethics Movement, we’ve been circling around a key theme: come back to what you already know. Your organizations already have tools, policies, procedures, and values—and if there was ever a time to lean on them, now is it.

Perhaps one of the most dynamic and effective tools at the disposal of any ethics and compliance program is their helpline (aka hotline). After all, your helpline is your direct connection to your workforce, whether they’re remote or onsite at essential businesses. And you can be sure that your employees need a safe outlet to ask questions and share their concerns as this pandemic goes on.

“If your speak-up channels are NOT seeing an increase right now, that is inconsistent with what we’re seeing across our entire customer base,” Convercent CEO Patrick Quinlan shared last week in our webinar on business resilience. “We have customers who are seeing a 25 to 30 percent increase, but across all customers we’re seeing about a 15 percent increase… Those reports have varied, but there has been a common theme coming back to this crisis we’re facing with COVID-19.”

Reinforce and communicate your helpline to employees

There are a variety of virus-related reasons why employees might feel the need to speak up, from a shortage of personal protective equipment to lax social distancing protocols. Regardless of the reasons, if you aren’t seeing an increase, you may want to refresh your workforce on their options, according to Elizabeth Bohannon, a coach and employment attorney.

“Remind your employees and your entire workforce of the channels that are in place for raising concerns…Unfortunately because a lot of people will be WFH and quite anxious, there may be a temptation to people to be communicating on social media. In their capacity as employees, you really want to discourage that. If they have concerns, they should use the channels that they’ve been using all along,” she says.

If you have a variety of reporting intake options, now is a good time to highlight that. Employees who might usually submit a report in-person to their manager may feel reluctant to do so over a video call while they’re working from home, or perhaps employees who are still working in-person may want anonymity if they’re reporting a sensitive matter. Either way, reinforce that your helpline is there to serve them in whichever manner they’re most comfortable reporting.

Prepare to respond—quickly

While you’re refreshing your workforce on your helpline, it may also be a good time to ensure your managers are trained on how to receive reports. In episode 2 of our podcast The Ethics Movement, Tom Fox and Philip Winterburn discuss company culture and management training.

“It’s not simply ‘see something, say something.’ It’s an entire culture around that—it’s managers who are trained on how to accept that information,” says Fox. “To have a process that allows that information to move up and down the chain would seem to me to make your company much more robust.”

Of course, it’s not enough to receive reports. You also have to respond to them—quickly. “You’ve got a process for dealing with employee complaints; if anything, over-index on doing your very best to investigate those complaints and take appropriate action,” Bohannon recommends.

And while it may be easy to let things slip through the cracks during an ever-evolving situation like a global pandemic, the cost of not responding quickly is high. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 began, many companies have seen their employees go to the press when their concerns aren’t handled—press coverage of business winners and losers during the pandemic is rampant.

Use your helpline as a pulse-check

Your board of directors is likely to increase their scrutiny over the next few months, so arm yourself with data on the health of your program. Solution Consultant Jake Winckler recommends a few ways to examine your helpline data and analyze the results.

“Do we trust our employees, and do our employees trust us? Interestingly enough, the helpline can serve as a tool for measurement around this key question,” he shares. The three leading indicators of trust from your helpline are these:

  • A decrease in number of reports compared to this time last year could indicate that individuals are fearful of speaking up
  • An increase in percentage of anonymous reports could indicate a fear of retaliation
  • A decrease in proxy reports could indicate a lack of confidence in open door policies

On the flip side, if you see an increase in reports, that could indicate confidence and comfort in speaking up, while a decrease in anonymity could indicate that employees are confident that their reports will be handled effectively.

If you’re facing a decrease in reporting or a lack of confidence in your program, that’s another reason to return to what you already know. Reiterate non-retaliation policies that you (hopefully) already have in place. Encourage open dialogue. And ensure that senior and middle management are properly trained on receiving reports.

Stay ahead of the curve—we’re here to help

We’ve collected all our coronavirus compliance resources in one place to help you stay ahead of the curve. If you’d like to know more, specifically about deploying your helpline as a key resource during the pandemic, watch last week’s webinar, subscribe to our podcast, or request a Helpline demo from our Solution Consultants below.

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