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Psychology in the Pub series

To blow or not to blow: The psychological toll of (not) blowing the whistle

Dr Katie Porkess MSc MBA PhD FISMA
1st July 2015 BRLSI, Bath, UK.
Notes by William Gaskell
“Whistleblowing is the disclosure by organisation members of illegal immoral practices [sic].”

Examples of Whistle blowing

Silkwood film about nuclear safety in USA

Lady got plutonium poisoning and then crashed her car and died while testifying against her company for lapses in health and safety.

Air –Shield Inc

Salvador Castro in 1995 noticed a baby incubator was unsafe and same up with fix – he reported t regulator and was sacked and never worked again.


Frank Morris in 2012 raised health and safety issues on behalf of his consultancy and was dismissed. He then petitioned Crossrail for 1 and a half years by billboarding them outside of their HQ offices daily with the support of his union until he and his company were re-instated by Crossrail.
Walsgrave Hospital
Dr Raj Mithu in 2001 raised suspicion of malpractice amongst junior staff as some of his patients were dying unexplainably after operations. He was then suspended for 13 years for bullying the junior staff until he was eventually cleared of wrongdoing. He complained of the negative health, psychological and emotional effects and costs of this struggle against his NHS Trust.

Colchester General Hospital

Staff felt unhappy and uneasy about speaking out because of no confidence in whistle blowing process as they did not believe in the confidentiality of it.


Kermit Vandivier in 1968 raised concerns about brake pad being supplied by his firm to the USAF but was not able to speak to anyone about it. When the product was delivered to USAF they found that it was faulty and led to the possibility of criminal prosecution being threatened. Two years later he wrote to his department head to resign, but his department head did not know of the situation et so fired him immediately instead for breach of trust.

Whistle blowing is risky:

·         Lack of support
·         Vilification
·         Ostracisation
This leads to stress and resulting psychological effects.
Chris Yates in 2013 spoke out against British Army 10 years after leaving. He did not speak out at the time but felt things were wrong but went along with them anyway at the time. The culture changed after 10 years so he spoke out.

Ford Pinto

In 1978 three was a scandal involving this car as it had a vulnerability of a gas tank explosion if it was hit from behind. When the problem was first discovered the company decided it was cheaper to compensate victims than to have a recall of the model. 20 years laer in 1978 Ford were obliged by court order to issue recall.
The executives ethically believed in recall but whilst working for Ford did not perceive any obligation to issue recall because of the culture of the organisation.

Whistleblowing is contextual

·         Depends on the culture of the group members

Social Identity Theory

This propagates the view that identifying with and being with a  group makes us feel good and gives us social identity and we make personal sacrifices in order to be in the group.

Reasons for low identification

·         Changes in culture of organisation
·         Values too alien for member to identify with
These would lead to psychological disengagement.

Whistleblowing behaviour:

·         Change yourself
·         Influence group


·         Effective communication within organisation
In USA whistle-blowers get share of any fines imposed.
In UK no financial gain for whistle-blower but job is protected under both regimes.
ENRON collapsed overnight as a result of a whistleblower, perhaps because of US culture . Arthur Anderson the accountancy firm also collapsed.

UK government’s Health Select Committee has found:
[Bad] treatment of whilstleblowers has caused harm and undermined willingness of whistleblowers to come forward in NHS.


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