The Top Five Reasons People Become Whistleblowers
Some philosophers believe that people act only in their own self-interest—that altruism doesn’t really exist. If a person believes such a thing, how does one explain the actions of people who become whistleblowers?
We’re not trying to start an argument here, nor are we philosophers by nature. But it does make you wonder: Why do so many people endure hardship to become whistleblowers? What is their motivation? We have some ideas for you to ponder.
Whistleblowing Happens Often
You might be surprised to learn just how often misconduct at work is reported. Research done by the Ethics Resource Council discovered that, of the workers who saw wrongdoing at work, 65 percent reported it. Additionally, over half of workers who did inform others about wrongdoing reported it to someone they considered a trusted source inside their company or organization.
Whistleblowers Are Usually Highly Moral People
Whistleblowers are sometimes depicted as disgruntled, opportunistic employees who are out for money, revenge, or both. In actuality, it isn’t true. Those who blow the whistle tend to be motivated by a higher sense of purpose. They may consider fairness and the greater good to be a bigger virtue than loyalty to an organization, but they agonize over making their choice—they want to be both fair and loyal. Such distress has been called “the whistleblower’s dilemma.”
The president of the Ethics Resource Council, Patricia Harned, commented, “Many see whistleblower as a derogatory term for a disloyal employee, but we’ve found that the whistleblower is often forced to go outside [the organization], either by fear, inaction, or both.”
Some whistleblowers don’t have a strong fairness-versus-loyalty conflict. Instead, they believe what they are doing is highly loyal—that is, they think that reporting misconduct makes the company better, thus demonstrating without a conflict their loyalty to the organization and their moral beliefs.
Factors That Lead People to Become Whistleblowers
A number of influences on a person’s life can determine whether they turn into whistleblowers. Three major factors that can sway a person to one side or the other are:
- Situational factors: If a worker feels that their company encourages them to step forward and protects them from retaliation, providing the proper pathways to report wrongdoing, they are more likely to blow the whistle.
- Cultural factors: If a worker comes from a more interdependent society, such as in China or Japan, they are less likely to report misdeeds. Those from a society that encourages independence, such as the U.S., have a greater probability of becoming whistleblowers.
- Personal factors: Whistleblowers tend to be strong people, often with intense personalities. Far from being “losers,” whistleblowers are often those employees with a higher education level and a greater salary level. They also usually have been with the company for a while, are extroverts, and are male. On top of that, they generally are more likely to take responsibility for their own actions.
The Top Five Reasons People Are Most Likely to Blow the Whistle
If you are educated, good at your job, believe problems can be fixed, and have a strong personality with a pronounced sense of what is right, you fit the profile for what is called a “natural” whistleblower. Such people often have at least one of the following five reasons for blowing the whistle:
- Whistleblowers have a core sense of integrity and justice. As we’ve mentioned, whistleblowers often have a strongly developed sense of right and wrong. This desire for justice and to preserve their personal integrity can drive them to step forward. They believe it is the right thing to do.
- Whistleblowers seek positive change. They often want to improve the organization for which they work. They take great pride in working where they do and feel they have a personal stake in the company. When they see wrongdoing, they can feel personally betrayed; they then choose to step up and report misdeeds for the good of the company.
- Whistleblowers can want to protect others at risk. If the wrongdoing involves possible harm to consumers, soldiers, medical patients, and so on, preventing that harm from happening becomes paramount to the whistleblower. For example, discovering that faulty body armor is being supplied to those fighting on the front lines so that others can profit can motivate someone to blow the whistle.
- Whistleblowers can want to protect themselves. A Vietnam veteran named Richard West who had muscular dystrophy needed 16 hours daily of home care. At one point, he discovered that he could not obtain dental care because his Medicaid benefits were exhausted. When he examined his Medicaid statements, he discovered that the government was being billed for services he’d never gotten, thus using up his benefits. The veteran later claimed that he was so disabled, and the false billing was so outrageous, he feared he would lose the care he needed and die.
- OK, we admit it—at times, the award money can come into play. But it is rarely a true motivation. The other reasons mentioned above tend to dominate the decision process of someone who is agonizing over whether to blow the whistle. A financial reward is generally way down on the list of reasons why a person would want to go through months or years of a court case. Generally, only a strong sense of moral purpose, a need to protect others, or the desire to benefit an organization they care deeply about, is enough to keep a whistleblower going over the long haul.
Veering from the pack and following one’s own sense of justice can be morally admirable, but it can also be isolating and discouraging. Whistleblowers sometimes find themselves seeking other careers and other life paths after their case is concluded. And yet, they keep going, convinced their cause is right. If you are ready to break away from the herd and blow the whistle because you believe you can make a difference, we at the Louthian Law Firm are ready to help you take those steps, supporting you along the way.
Making a difference.
If you think you have the facts needed to bring a whistleblower case, the experienced whistleblower attorneys at the Louthian Law Firm can review your case and help you file the appropriate disclosure statement. Under some circumstances, the government will intervene, or join in your lawsuit.
Your chances of succeeding are greater if your whistleblower claim is substantive, clear, and to the point. Because of this, meeting with a qualified whistleblower attorney can increase your chances of winning. The Louthian Law Firm can help you form your claim so that the government will be more inclined to intervene in your case; government intervention can sometimes increase the chances of recovering reward money. Even if the government decides not to intervene, it could still be a good idea to pursue your case without government involvement. Our strong support system can assist you through every step of the process.
For a free, confidential evaluation of your case, call the Louthian Law Firm today at 1-803-454-1200 or, if you prefer, you can fill out our online contact form.