The Integrity Talks

Politicians, beware of mandatory confidential advisers

The Integrity Talks

Politicians, beware of mandatory confidential advisers. The foundations of safe workplaces are not in order, according to various politicians. After working in the business world for almost twenty years, Dina-Perla Portnaar can attest to that. But if people can just become a confidant by following a course, new problems will be imminent, she writes on EW Podium.

Dutch politicians are considering an amendment to the Working Conditions Act to make confidential advisers mandatory soon. The idea is that the confidential adviser plays a supporting and facilitating role in the implementation of integrity management in practice. Someone who offers a listening ear, not someone who advises and solves.

The confidential adviser will support reporters initially, will examine whether a solution in the informal setting is possible, inform reporters about the options such as complaints procedures, guide them in the interaction with the complaints committee or managers, refer them to emergency services, and will provide reporters with aftercare. Naturally, that person has a duty of confidentiality. The person will also provide information on manners, and how to deal with unacceptable behavior. He or she will register reports (anonymously), and support managers with their approach to integrity management. According to the Dutch labor inspection.

HR-officer who is also confidential adviser

In practice, things go wrong – if an organization has even appointed a confidential adviser. For example, an HR-officer can fulfill the additional function of confidential adviser internally. The integrity system is therefore not valid, and HR becomes part of ’the’ problem. The same applies to integrity professionals who are also confidential advisers. Reporters may, incidentally, refuse internal confidential advisers. Sometimes it is not clear who the confidential adviser is because it has not been recorded centrally in the generally accessible information, or it has not been communicated.

The confidential adviser has a so-called right of nondisclosure, which means that he or she is not obliged to comment on what has been reported, unless a crime has been committed. But that is where things often go wrong. It means that the consequences, such as reprisals for reporters, are lurking. Reporters who already risk so much for the sake of doing the ‘right’ thing. We should actually try to unburden them.

Becoming a confidential adviser by following a course

The confidential adviser is an additional function in this respect. Someone often takes on that role by quickly following a course. Such a certificate, however, says nothing about someone’s life experience, knowledge of people, balanced personality, and antenna for relations and power dynamics, interests, and matters that play a role under the surface. Moreover, a diploma from an accredited course, such as the LVV or the CAOP is currently not mandatory. Oh, no…

So if politicians want to prepare for the amendments to the law properly and, among other things, want to combat psychosocial workload, they will have to observe the quality requirements of confidential advisers, and raise those considerably. Now, not later. If they don’t, new problems will be imminent. Politicians will also have to look at the strangest combinations that confidential advisers have.

Own research: integrity specialists are often also confidential advisers

I researched this via LinkedIn for two weeks. I spoke about it with external confidential advisers who have those curious combinations, a few academics in business ethics and integrity, and with organizations, including Stichting COI – Center for Organizational Integrity. To get back intentional answers, I said that I myself am considering the combination of prevention and integrity management, and confidential adviser, even to COI. I did so only to be able to pierce through the matter.

It appears from that contact that external integrity specialists are regularly also confidential advisers. They run an agency with several clients, and keep portfolios separate. The question is when those portfolios create gray areas. Probably, it can go well, but we shouldn’t want this. My appeal to politicians is not to tolerate this because the risks are significant.

Politicians, be critical about new laws

In other words, if we really want to strengthen the foundations of safe workplaces – as a society we have momentum to do this adequately and to implement changes for the sake of the human factor – then I would strongly advise politicians to be critical. Because these are not combinations that we sometimes encounter in other domains. For example, working in journalism, as well as in publicity, with utmost transparency. The life course of the people involved, and their loved ones, is literally at stake here.

The weirdest combination I’ve come across is a cuddle therapist – Platonic or not; according to a number of interviews with the press, ’tension sometimes arises with a customer’ – and a certified confidential adviser. When I asked about it, I first got a somewhat evasive and generic answer. That combinations can be disastrous, for example that of coach, lawyer or mediator and confidant (duh).

Cuddle therapist as confidential adviser?

Subsequently, clients are individuals who come for cuddle therapy. That it is more trust work than anything else (I believe that; the problem is not that the competences that are needed for both roles are comparative, including being able to communicate trauma-sensitively). Because it is vulnerable and powerful at the same time. It requires complete integrity and care. And organizations are customers for a confidential adviser.

Finally, I noted that women with sexual trauma, people with autism, physical limitations, burnout, and grief, and informal caregivers are also included in the portfolio of the cuddle therapy practice.

The big question remains: how can ‘complete integrity and care’ be guaranteed if managers are cuddled – after all, according to a number of interviews with the press, clients are often men – and reporters in need of support assisted at the same time? Reports in which managers are often part of ’the’ problem. How then is this credible? Although this could be navigated by separating portfolios, my appeal to politicians is to counter this. After all, the business world is small, and get-togethers are just around the corner. Politicians, it really is pressing. Do it right – now, instead of half – later.

The Dutch version of this article was published by EW Magazine.