Anonymous calls to business hotlines aren't frivolous, reports Ethikos

MAMARONECK, N.Y., July 15 /PRNewswire/ -- In the past decade many companies have embraced ethics "hotlines" as a way for employees to report waste, fraud and abuse within their organization.

Yet these internal reporting mechanisms continue to raise questions.

Should a company welcome anonymous reports on its corporate hotline/helpline, for instance?

"This topic has long been discussed in the ethics and compliance world," writes Carrie S. Penman, Vice President of the Ethical Leadership Group, a Global Compliance Company, in the current issue of Ethikos (

"Many assume that anonymous reports are likely to be unsubstantiated. Managers often fear that anonymous reports will be used as a way for employees to make deliberately false allegations against a colleague or boss. Some even argue that anonymity should not be an option when making reports. They say, 'If they aren't willing to give their name, then they shouldn't raise the issue.'"

Yet a recent analysis of hotline data yields a surprising conclusion. Anonymous reporting makes no difference when it comes to substantiating hotline reports. Based on 225,000 hotline reports across all industries in 2008 from the Global Compliance database, reports Penman, the "percent of cases substantiated with a named reporter" (28%) was no different from the "percent of cases substantiated with an anonymous reporter" (28%).

In other words, anonymous reports are just as likely to 'pan out' as other reports.

The article, "Hotline Data: Effective Analysis and Benchmarking Can Maximize the Benefits," is the lead story in the July/August issue of Ethikos.

Penman punctures another 'hotline' myth-about 'repeat reporters,' employees who use the reporting system on a regular basis, sometimes called 'frequent flyers.'

"Management and others have typically dismissed 'repeat reporters' as having another agenda or as being less credible than other reporters. Perhaps our most surprising finding was that for those reporters who identified themselves as 'repeat reporters'...cases were actually substantiated at a higher rate than issues received from first time reporters."

Ethikos is a bi-monthly publication that examines ethical and compliance issues in business. In its 23rd year, it takes a unique case-study approach to corporate ethics. Recent issues have included profiles of Cisco, Toyota, L'Oreal, and Novartis Corporation, among others.