The age-old adage of most public sector whistleblowers being shunned and tormented by their peers has been disproved, according to the results of a major national study headed by Griffith Law School Senior Research Fellow Dr AJ Brown.

The results of the Australian Research Council-funded Whistling While They Work project will be released today at the first Australian Public Sector Anti-Corruption (APSAC) Conference at the Hilton Hotel, Sydney.

Dr Brown said results revealed only 22 percent of the whistleblowers surveyed said they were treated badly by management or co-workers, with 78 percent reporting they were treated either well or the same.

“The figure is still too high, but fortunately is much lower than expected,” Dr Brown said.

Bad treatment or harm suffered by whistleblowers was most likely intimidation, harassment, heavy scrutiny of work, ostracism, unsafe or humiliating work, and other workplace-based negative behaviour.

“Those that reported bad treatment felt most of it came from management, rather than colleagues or co-workers,” Dr Brown said.

“Even successful whistleblowers reported adverse psychological experiences from their whistleblowing, although not as adverse as those treated badly.

“The research shows whistleblowers can blow the whistle on serious wrongdoing without necessarily suffering, but only if they do it internally and carefully, have realistic expectations, and organise their own support,” Dr Brown said.

The first report from the project also concludes agencies need to better ensure their managers are equipped to take responsibility for their role in receiving disclosures and managing whistleblowing.

It says governments need to reform legislation to ensure best practice whistleblowing systems in agencies, including more central coordination, provisions to recognise public whistleblowing, and provision for effective whistleblower compensation.

“The fact whistleblowing is clearly not confined to rare acts of ‘troublemaking’ creates a new obligation on agencies and governments to ensure they have effective systems for managing and protecting whistleblowers,” Dr Brown said.

“Far from showing wrongdoing is rife in the public sector, the results suggest whistleblowing should be accepted as a healthy and positive element of organisational life, helping ensure that government operates with integrity.”