Don’t Shoot the… Whistleblower?

Hey everyone! This is my first blog post—ever!

When thinking of organizational behaviour, the actual hierarchy of a company pops into my head. This idea led me to some thoughts about how information travels in some companies, horizontal, vertically, lattice… and so on. When information flows strictly vertically, there are chances that some issues or concerns from lower levels get blocked from going upwards. This happens because employees are afraid to be the bearers of bad news, as they become associated with the, well for a lack of a better phrase, “negative aura” it produces. I’m sure everyone’s heard of the saying “Don’t shoot the messenger”. This phrase is used in reference to the delivery of bad news, and the negative connotations it brings to the bearer.

In early years, it was a common occurrence that those who bring bad news to the attention of authorities, would be held accountable for the problems that they pointed out. In Sophocles’s Antigone this idea is emphasized by highlighting the fact that “No one loves the messenger who brings bad news”. Being human, we tend to be irrational and emotional and as a result we can confuse the source of the problem with the person who brings awareness to the problem. This concept is also seen in the business world, as is referred to as whistle blowing. If we have a term for this concept of wrongly pacing blame on the wrong person, would we not be able to take it into account when hearing bad news?

Whistle blowing is when an employee brings awareness to a problem of dishonestly or illegality within a company. In one related article, Robert A. Larmer discusses why whistle blowing is a moral and acceptable thing to do. He claims that “To be loyal to someone is to act in a way that is genuinely in that persons best interest” (Larmer, 1992) and that blowing the whistle is acting in the company’s best interest. He goes on to argue for whistleblowers’ right to call issues to attention, but adds that blowing the whistle internally is the optimal way of going about things(Larmer, 1992).

However, another view is seen in Michael Davis’s article Avoiding the Tragedy of Whistleblowing. Davis argues against whistle blowing, as he describes how whistle blowing should not exist at all within a company, as all problems should be addressed before anyone feels the need to blow the whistle. I think a combination of both of these concepts can be considered. Personally, I agree with Davis is the sense that problems should be met with solutions as soon as possible, but if they are not dealt with, and then I think whistleblowers should rightly blow the whistle without being looked upon as being in the wrong for doing so, as Larmer emphasizes (Larmer, 1992). Regardless of whether you believe whistleblowing is a needed component to the successful functioning of a company, or if you feel the problems should be addressed before the whistle need be blown, it is vital to understand the psychology behind whistleblowing, and how we view the whistleblower. By doing so, we create encouragement for bringing problems to light that need to be addressed.

Davis, M. (1989). ‘Avoiding the tragedy of whistle-blowing.’ Business and Professional Ethics

Journal, 8(4), 3-19. (N/A, 2011)

Robert A. Larmer(1992). Whistleblowing and Employee Loyalty. Journal of Business Ethics 11 (2).

N/A. (2011, May 6). Shooting the Messenger. Retrieved from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shooting_the_messenger

I was able to find an electronic copy of Davis’ Avoiding the Tragedy of Whistleblowing, which you can view here: http://ethics.iit.edu/publication/avoidTragedyWhistle.pdf

You can view Sophocles’ Antigone here: http://classics.mit.edu/Sophocles/antigone.html

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4 responses to “Don’t Shoot the… Whistleblower?

  1. Thanks for volunteering tonight!

  2. Very insightful post. It is amazing how much we actually need to think about what we do before doing them.

  3. chrisjerickchua

    I definitely agree with you. I also think that if the problems have not been solved, then blowing the whistle would be the right thing to do. This would be good for the company. I just hope that by doing so, you won’t be blamed. Very interesting post!

  4. Pingback: WhistleBlower : Hero or Traitor? | richopinionblog

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