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Count Your Costs

If you intend to blow the whistle, the most light of the costs you are likely to bear are those associated with the time and trouble you will take proving your case. Outside agencies may show interest in your complaints, but they are unlikely to believe unsubstantiated complaints. Unless you have the evidence to prove your allegations and are willing to be subject to intense scrutiny in terms of your motives and trustworthiness, you are unlikely to be believed. You can therefore expect to spend a significant amount of your time defend both your allegations and yourself.

In addition to these costs you will bear from external sources, you will run the likely chance of being retaliated against by the organization on which you are blowing the whistle. We will be citing some statistics on this page about the likely costs that whistleblowers will bear. These are taken from careful research done by Rothschild and Miethe [14] who interviewed or surveyed over 750 dissenters or whistleblowers. More research on the likely costs of whistleblowing can be found in our bibliography. Rothchild and Miethe's (1999) research indicate that organizational retaliation is both "severe and common." They document the following forms and rates of retaliation that occurred to people who dissented significantly within their company:

Form of retaliation

1) Lost their job or were forced to retire


2) Received negative job performance evaluations


3) Had work more closely monitored by supervisors


4) Was criticized or avoided by coworkers


5) Were blacklisted from getting another job in their field


These forms of retaliation become 10 to 15% more frequent for those who go public, outside the company, to blow the whistle. Non-supervisors (vs. supervisors), African Americans (vs. whites), and whistleblowers who report about activities involving more than $100,000 were retaliated against more often.

The outcomes of this retaliation can be severe for whistleblowers. The most common effects that Rothschild and Miethe [14] document are:

Effects on Whistleblowers

1) Severe depression or anxiety


2) Feelings of isolation or powerlessness


3) Distrust of Others


4) Declining physical health


5) Severe financial decline


6) Problems with family relations


Those who dissent or who go further to blow the whistle rarely anticipate consequences this severe, but the research documents their frequency. Still, in spite of the suffering they have endured, 90% of the dissenters and whistleblowers still say they would report the misconduct if they had a chance to do it all over. These individuals have come through the experience to see themselves as highly moral people who will do the right thing when it is called for.

Both Goodearl and Ibarra were harassed in their company, eventually released or fired, and spent a good deal of their time over the next decade fighting their case in the U.S. courts. They did not expect to have such a hard time proving their case and seeing things corrected.

When you are thinking through your intention to blow the whistle, you should be clear about the costs you think society and yourself might suffer if you remain silent, and about the costs you and your family may suffer if you blow the whistle. These decision are not easy, but they may be, as they were for Goodearl and Ibarra, matters of life and death for others.