Encouraging employees to speak up

The Novartis SpeakUp Office, which from 2021 has been integrated into the Ethics, Risk & Compliance (ERC) function, enables employees and external parties to raise concerns about potential misconduct while being protected against retaliation.

In 2021, a total of 2 099 complaints of alleged misconduct resulting in 1 932 cases, with 2 385 allegations, were received and handled. Of the complaints, 84% came via the SpeakUp channel and the remainder were self-identified via existing internal controls. Anonymous complaints were 33% of the total. We saw a 5% increase in SpeakUp complaints in 2021 compared with 2020, primarily due to employees returning to worksites as the pandemic situation eased in some countries, and due to increased training and awareness of the program.

Of the total cases, 174 (9%) were classified as central matters (higher-risk cases) warranting further investigation, while 1 758 lower-risk matters were addressed or investigated locally. The investigated central matter allegations resulted in 62 dismissals or resignations, and in 27 written warnings. Other remedial actions such as training, coaching and implementing new controls were also used when deemed appropriate.

The shift to new ways of working amid the COVID-19 pandemic led to certain SpeakUp topics arising more frequently. For instance, we observed an increase in complaints regarding leadership behaviors amid flexible working arrangements, as well as those related to company guidelines on vaccinations or testing. Such complaints typically did not require investigation and could be addressed through local management or human resources teams. Allegations related to improper professional practices continued to decrease in 2021 due to the strengthening of our ERC policy, training and monitoring program.

In 2021, we took steps to increase awareness about the SpeakUp program in certain markets and regions through targeted training and awareness sessions. We saw, for instance, a 6% increase in misconduct reporting in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region.