Companies that don’t take ethical behavior seriously face lasting brand damage, fines, and years of enforcement actions with ongoing lawsuits. However, companies that operate at a high moral and ethical level engender trust among their customers and are rewarded in profitability. So why aren’t more businesses identifying and investigating possible misdeeds before they become tomorrow’s scandals? A possible explanation is that many simply don’t trust their source — whistleblowers.

Whistleblowers Have A Bad Reputation That’s Undeserved

The term “whistleblower” refers to early law enforcement officials using a whistle to alert fellow police officers or the public of danger. Unfortunately, today the term has negative implications. Top synonyms for whistleblower include: betrayer, double-crosser, snitch, tattletale, squealer, backstabber.

Unsurprisingly, whistleblowers are highly stigmatized in the workplace. It’s time we remove that stigma, rebrand their image, and recognize their role as an essential guardian of ethical corporate culture.

Don’t Shoot The Messenger Or You’ll Shoot Yourself In The Foot

Stereotypes depict whistleblowers as disgruntled employees looking to take revenge. On the contrary, whistleblowers are more tenured, higher-paid, more senior employees who report internally first in an attempt to help their employers avoid brand-damaging headlines. Despite the reputational and financial benefits that businesses incur from enabling whistleblowers, many employees still experience negative consequences for speaking out. Retaliation for employees who raise these concerns is at an all-time high, and many are unable to report anonymously.

Give Whistleblowers An Extreme Makeover

Whistleblowers are an important safety valve in corporate ethics. In today’s hyper-social, ultra-visible world, organizations are hard-pressed to succeed without them. What can companies do now? Start by rebranding the role of the whistleblower. Next, use the data and recommendations in my new report, “Protect Whistleblowers For Business Success,” to foster a culture of ethical integrity.

(Written with Kate Pesa, senior research associate at Forrester)