Workplace fear and mistrust on the rise, global coronavirus helpline data proves

Anonymity and reporting are on the rise during the coronavirus pandemic, indicating widespread fear and diminished trust

As the coronavirus pandemic unfolds around the globe, we’re watching workplace behavior and attitudes change from one day to the next, with significant ramifications for ethics and compliance. Thanks to our Convercent Ethics Cloud Platform user base of over six million employees at companies around the world, we can track these staggering global changes in real time.

Risk is increasing. Pressure to hit sales targets despite the economic downturn, pressure to perform despite a reduction in workforce, and fear of redundancy all lead to corners being cut, rationalization to kick in, and ultimately unethical or even illegal behavior to occur.

At times like these, it’s imperative to understand the context for the shifts you see in your key metrics. Benchmarking provides some of that context. Are the shifts you see aligned or incongruent with what your peers are experiencing?

To try and help the ethics and compliance community begin to understand what our new reality might look like, we’re sharing some of our latest global coronavirus helpline data here. What you do with the data will be up to you—but if you’d like some guidance, join our next webinar about putting together a COVID-19 Compliance Playbook. Or watch my session from ECI Impact on demand here.

Global helpline reports are up 12 percent

Reports to employee helplines have increased 12 percent versus the same time period last year. When you consider how much of the global workforce has been laid off, this spike in reports indicates a much bigger spike in per-capita reporting. What does this trend mean on a human level? It seems likely to correspond with rising fear and concern, about both the economic impact of coronavirus and the possibility of catching the illness.

As we dig into the detail that underpins this increase, we see two very interesting indicators:

Health and Safety reports are up 25 percent

As large as 25 percent may seem, that’s just an average—some individual companies are seeing even bigger jumps. Employees are reporting on their coworkers out of fear for their health. Recent health and safety reports mention coworkers bypassing temperature checks, returning from travel without sharing where they’ve been, and not following physical distancing guidelines.

Compliance professionals who pursue investigations into reports like these will walk a fine line between assuaging health and safety concerns, while also respecting the individual’s right to privacy. Watch our webinar with compliance coach and labor attorney Elizabeth Bohannon to learn more about navigating that delicate balance.

Employee Relations reports are down 14 percent

With teams scattered among their home offices and interactions limited to Zoom calls, it’s perhaps not surprising that this type of report has fallen. However, in our research, this metric depends heavily on workplace culture. Companies with strong cultures and deeply-held values experience their workforce coming together and focusing on what’s important—and that means petty reports on interpersonal behavior go by the wayside.

We’ve seen this play out for one of our customers, a popular supermarket chain. Their corporate team has gone above and beyond in preparing for a situation like COVID-19, protecting their employees and customers, and providing resources for their workforce. Their HR reports have dropped 50 percent since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Companies who fail to prepare for crises, communicate poorly, or lack strong values to fall back on may likely experience the opposite—an increase in HR reporting. 

I was recently asked by a Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer, “What should I be doing to ensure my budget does not get cut?” If you have a solid foundation of partnering with the business to deliver business value, ingrained ethics and compliance into the fabric of the business, and aligned your program with the mission and values of your organization to drive a culture of high performance and ethical behavior, then you will likely have little problem defending your value. If you lack that foundation, now is the hardest time to try to build it.

The companies that will emerge from this crisis stronger and best positioned for the future are those that have built resilience through an ingrained and shared common sense of purpose and values.

Proxy reporting is down 9 percent

Rather than speak to a supervisor, HR or ethics and compliance, employees are turning to the psychological safety of the helpline. This decline in proxy reporting could be due to new WFH arrangements. Employees could be reluctant to have vulnerable conversations with their supervisors over video. But when taken in context with our next metric, it seems to reflect a decline in trust.

Anonymity is up 9.5 percent

Those who are still employed today have likely seen friends and family members lose their jobs in recent weeks, and have almost certainly seen news reports about retaliation against whistleblowers. It’s a perfect recipe for sowing fear and mistrust, and that fact is borne out by the last two months of global helpline data coming into the Ethics Cloud Platform. Not only are we seeing greater numbers of reports, but those reports are also more likely to be submitted anonymously.

Now that you’re armed with the global helpline data, use it to gauge the trends you’re seeing within your own organization (if you’re a Convercent customer, use the Insights dashboard to make this a little easier). Benchmarking your program against global trends can help guide your response.

Need some help putting that response together? Join our next webinar as we talk through the five key areas to include in your COVID-19 compliance playbook.

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