So you’ve decided to introduce an employee hotline at your workplace — what great news! Your employees are about to reap the benefits of a feedback-forward culture, and you’ll be rich in insights that make any whiff of a toxic workplace environment a thing of the past.
Well, that’s the goal, of course. But the reality is that the only thing worse than not having a hotline at all is dedicating the time, energy, and resources toward researching, selecting, purchasing, and implementing a hotline … only to have it languish, unused.
If this has been your experience in the past, you’re not alone. There could be a whole slew of reasons why folks aren’t taking advantage of a new resource: maybe they don’t know where to find it, or how to use it, they’re worried about getting someone in trouble or getting in trouble themselves, or they don’t feel the psychological safety required to speak up in the first place.
These are all valid concerns (so valid, in fact, that we built our own Employee Hotline and Case Management Tool around addressing them), so we reached out to Ethena’s own VP of People, Melanie Naranjo to help us tackle them one by one.
What is an employee hotline?
Let’s start at the beginning. What is an employee hotline?
When used correctly, it’s a pipeline that transports feedback, concerns, and reports of workplace misconduct from the employees experiencing these issues up to the folks who can do something to resolve them: typically the HR or People Team.
Every reporting tool is different, but many allow for either anonymous or attributed reporting, and the best serve as a centralized hub for long-term case management.
How do I know if my company needs an employee hotline?
At Ethena, we believe feedback is a gift, so we’d never talk you out of implementing an employee hotline, no matter your company size. But according to Melanie’s experience and expertise, there comes a point around 50 employees where word of mouth doesn’t quite cut it anymore.
For some reason, the flow of information evolves and changes at about that time, which makes it a good opportunity to put some information-gathering systems like employee surveys and an employee hotline in place. That way, you can maintain a big-picture view of the organization’s health and overall vibe even without frequent touchpoints with every single employee.
Why is a case management tool often preferable to a standalone whistleblower hotline?
This is truly the topic you don’t want to get us started on at a networking event, so we’ll try to keep it brief.
Suffice it to say that whistleblower hotlines are great on paper … and sometimes not much further than that. According to a recent compliance risk benchmarking survey published by professional services network KPMG, hotlines are missing the mark when it comes to implementation. To quote Radical Compliance’s excellent summary:
“Essentially, the findings are these: that companies spend more time measuring employees’ awareness of the whistleblower hotline, but not necessarily employees’ comfort with actually using the hotline. That might be a significant mistake, because employees are more concerned about whether they can trust the whole internal reporting process rather than the mechanics of exactly how one is supposed to file a report.”
3 steps for effectively rolling out an employee hotline and case management tool at your organization
Given those findings, how do we recommend maximizing effectiveness while lowering the barriers to entry? According to Melanie and our broader Ethena team, it’s a simple, three-step process.
Step 1: Socialize the employee hotline and make sure it’s accessible
Like we said at the top, if no one knows about your tool or how to get to it, do you really even have one? Get the word out in multiple ways, location, and with buy-in at levels up, down, and across the org chart.
- How: Educate folks early and often, starting with onboarding and other relevant trainings.
- Where: Place a link to the employee hotline in accessible areas that are frequented by employees — think company documents, wikis, and on Slack, Teams, or similar platforms.
- When: Socialize periodically during the year. This one’s a big one, as our research for this project found the majority of employees wouldn’t know where to go or what to do if an incident occurred. Try linking to the hotline when you promote office hours, roll out your annual harassment prevention training, and at the start of each year when reminding employees more generally about the company resources on offer.
- Who: Train people leaders about it. We heard that when in doubt, reporters tend to bring issues to their managers as a first stop, so there’s a great opportunity to work case management tools education into your management training. That way, if something comes up during a coaching session, a manager is equipped to either report by proxy or offer instruction on how to use the tool to escalate independently.
Step 2: Address key concerns head-on
Let’s face it, there are a lot of (perfectly valid) concerns that folks may have when it comes to reporting. For that reason, we recommend creating an FAQ doc that’s easily accessible and shared alongside the hotline link so that a lack of information is less likely to be an obstacle. You know your own workforce best, but here are some topics we find well worth covering.
Reporters will want to know if they have the option to keep their identity hidden, even with follow-up communications. (FYI, Ethena’s tool allows for this, to save you some time in drafting your FAQ doc.)
Reporters will want to know if they’re protected from retaliation and what to do if it occurs.
Reporters will want to know about your organization’s investigation process, and specifically what will happen to the person or people they report.
Reporters often second-guess themselves in the wake of an incident and will want to know if their issue warrants being reported and what types of issues should be reported in general.
It can take substantial emotional effort for an employee to use the hotline if they see something iffy, so folks will need to know that the process is worth it and has leadership and organizational buy-in.
Step 3: Educate on the hotline and case management process at your company
Providing specifics on what to expect is not just helpful to the reporter, but necessary on the admin side. Without clear communication, you risk miscommunication — detrimental assumptions like the reporter wondering whether their issue is being taken seriously, or fearing that no action will be taken. To nip those fears in the bud, try offering transparency around:
- The pros and cons of reporting anonymously vs. disclosing your name
- What investigations look like
- Who is typically involved in the investigation process
- Realistic expectations about outcomes — specifically what can and can’t be shared with the reporter
Are you ready to roll out a hotline and case management tool your employees will actually leverage?
With all this information at your fingertips, we’re confident that you can boost employee leveraging of any hotline and case management tool — but of course, we’re partial to ours.