Misconduct in organizations: How to improve speak-up cultures?

Whistleblowing systems regularly do not deliver on what they promise. Often, they fail to uncover severe wrongdoings which in turn remain undetected. That begs the question, what are the causes behind this disconnect between the ability to report misconduct anonymously and the willingness to do so? As several case studies show, even in extreme cases with enormous moral consequences – such as drug manipulation in pharmaceutical companies or pharmacies, or in cases of sexual abuse in churches and sports clubs – turning a blind eye and silence often prevail. In social psychology, this phenomenon is explained with bystander effects and by a rational blame game: “let the colleague report it, let the boss do something.” However, little research has been done on the different organizational effects, which are supposed to reduce misconduct, such as whistleblowing systems, which should lower the bar for reporting, but do not do this on a sufficient level.

This research project aims to close this research gap and test the effectiveness of preventive measures, which aim to increase the willingness to report deviant behavior. In close cooperation with multinational companies, we use two forms of training to determine more precisely the willingness to report in different organizational settings. Based on the results, we then evaluate reporting measures. The benefit for the companies is to obtain evidence-based knowledge on compliance measures, which aim to increase willingness to report. The findings will enable compliance management to decide which measures should be developed or maintained and which, if any, should be terminated because they have turned out to be ineffective.


Ausrufezeichen, Wichtig, Bedeutend, Wesentlich
Image: pixabay.com

Research team
Prof. Dr. Markus Pohlmann (MWI, Heidelberg)
Dr. Kristina Höly (MWI, Heidelberg, project manager)
Dr. Sebastian Starystach (Charité, Berlin)
Aleksandra Barjaktarević, M.A. (MWI, Heidelberg)

Cooperation partners
Markus Jüttner (DICO e.V.)
Kai Fain (DICO e.V.)

Project duration

Project funding
KBA-NotaSys Integrity Fund