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The brave or the foolhardy?

By Brian Holden - posted Wednesday, 22 December 2010

After four years involved as a volunteer support person for employees dragged into “fact-finding” inquiries, which were nerve-racking for the employee who dared to make a disclosure, I have a theory for the seemingly cowardly behaviour of both the employee’s superiors and peers.

It is that the disclosing employee has dishonoured the “code” - which is that none of us should bite the hand that feeds all of us.

Each of my “clients” described their experience following a disclosure as the worst of their lives. Think about that one: you report illegal behaviour and your reward is the worst experience of your life.


As the matter stretches from weeks to months, and then to years, my people exhibited many physical signs of distress, including skin rashes, irritable bowel, insomnia, unexplained cold sweats and panic attacks, loss of appetite, social withdrawal, loss of income due to over-extended sick leave, loss of libido in the marriage, angry outbursts at the children and guilt that their family was worried about their predicament.

A support person is not an advocate. His function is to silently sit in on “fact-finding inquiries” involving the employee who faces more than one “fact-finder” at the table. His mere presence guarantees that there will be no gross intimidation of the employee. He is also able to later objectively discuss with the highly stressed employee what was actually said at the meeting.

However, at the “fact-finding” inquiry, the employee making the disclosure is unable to support their case with documentation as the holding of unauthorised documentation, including photocopies, is a sackable offence. And, as the culture has produced only one employee courageous enough to make the disclosure, there will be no other witnesses willing to sign a supporting statement.

The organisation can then twist the employee's verbal evidence around anyway it likes. And, with no support from his wimpish peers, it is easy to paint the lone accuser as a misfit.

The disclosing employee who makes the mistake of deciding to follow through on the allegation wherever it takes him, assumes that right must win in the end. My observation is that in the real world, right does not win in the end - the best argument does - regardless of whether it is right or wrong.

My observation is that once the discloser is seen not as a champion for the public’s interest, but as a boat-rocker, he feels betrayed by almost everybody. When all conversation stops when he enters the staff room he knows that there is a fear of being seen to be friendly with him. The more insecure of his colleagues may even buckle under pressure (real or imagined) into volunteering statements which contradict or seriously water-down the claims made by the boat-rocker.


So, the “fact-finders” who paint the employee of exceptional integrity as a misfit, in a culture where self-survival is the priority objective, are making an accurate assessment after all. He is a misfit!

After sitting in on many meetings, I cynically concluded:

  • that the sanctified term “team player” really meant accepting the current standards no matter how ineffective, wasteful or even illegal they were;
  • that commitments to openness and accountability were no more than ink on paper appearing in the mission statements in glossy annual reports;
  • that the formal disclosure mechanism was not primarily designed to correct the aberrant behaviour of the accused, but to correct the boat-rocking behaviour of the accuser; and
  • that the organisation wins because it has all the time its needs to wait for the frustrated accuser to become emotionally exhausted.
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About the Author

Brian Holden has been retired since 1988. He advises that if you can keep physically and mentally active, retirement can be the best time of your life.

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