Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

Illegal or inappropriate behaviour observed or experienced by over 40% of employees

New research finds workplace misconduct is rife but underreported, as employees don't trust their organisation to fairly manage whistleblowing

Ahead of an expected government review into UK whistleblowing frameworks, new research finds that half (52%) of employees are now more aware of the importance of whistleblowing than before due to media reporting on high profile cases. However mistrust around possible retaliation and reliable process still holds many back from reporting workplace misconduct.

That’s according to a recent survey of 2,000 employees commissioned by Personio, Europe’s leading HR software company for SMEs. 

With 43% of employees having seen or experienced some kind of inappropriate or illegal behaviour at work, the research reveals that workplace misconduct is common, and often unchecked.

One in ten (10%) employees have witnessed or experienced sexual harassment at work, but nearly half (49%) of these did not report it. Similarly, almost one third (30%) have seen or experienced bullying at work, with 44% of these not reporting it.

Pete Cooper, Director of People Partners & DEI at Personio, commented: 

“The extent of workplace misconduct is worrying, and the rate at which these go unreported is even more so. It’s clear that having whistleblowing channels in place is only one small part of the puzzle to make workplaces safer. A workplace culture that prioritises trust and transparency is critical. People need to understand that these reporting processes exist, feel safe using them, and have trust in their organisation to listen to and act on their concerns.”  


The data points to the role that culture plays in creating a space where people feel they can safely report issues via the appropriate channels. 

43% of employees feel worried about retaliation or retribution if they were to report an issue, and only 56% of employees feel confident that sensitive workplace misconduct situations would be treated properly and fairly by their organisation. 

Trust in leadership

Concerns are eased in organisations where people trust leadership to listen to and support them. Employees in higher trust organisations are more likely to have reported inappropriate or illegal behaviours (69%) compared to those that don't (58%). 

But, trust within organisations is clearly lacking. Only half (52%) of employees say they trust their senior leadership, and on the flip side, one in ten (10%) strongly distrust their leadership. Meanwhile, three in ten (30%) employees believe more would be achieved if they went to the media about workplace misconduct, rather than to their own management team. 

Crucially, putting in place anonymous ways to blow the whistle would also help ease employees’ fears. Nearly one in five (18%) don’t believe that their organisation would protect their anonymity if they reported workplace misconduct, and the same number (18%) do not feel there is an accessible or anonymous process in place at work to report misconduct.

Pete Cooper continued: 

“Whistleblowing carries a lot of stigma, but it shouldn’t. It’s about protecting people and businesses, which is incredibly important. And, as demonstrated in recent news stories, failing to appropriately report or manage reports of misconduct can result in extremely damaging consequences both on a personal level and for entire organisations. 

“Whilst the expected publication of the UK government’s review into whistleblowing frameworks will be a step in the right direction, it will not be a silver bullet or a quick fix. As well as leaning on government guidance and support, businesses should themselves work to build the kind of workplace culture that fosters employee trust and goes above and beyond to put their safety right at the heart of their organisation.”