Whistleblowing in Organizations:

An Examination of Correlates of

Whistleblowing Intentions,

Actions, and Retaliation

Jessica R. Mesmer-Magnus

Chockalingam Viswesvaran

ABSTRACT. Whistleblowing on organizational

wrongdoing is becoming increasingly prevalent. What

aspects of the person, the context, and the transgression

relate to whistleblowing intentions and to actual whistleblowing

on corporate wrongdoing? Which aspects

relate to retaliation against whistleblowers? Can we draw

conclusions about the whistleblowing process by assessing

whistleblowing intentions? Meta-analytic examination

of 193 correlations obtained from 26 samples

(N = 18,781) reveals differences in the correlates of

whistleblowing intentions and actions. Stronger relationships

were found between personal, contextual, and

wrongdoing characteristics and whistleblowing intent

than with actual whistleblowing. Retaliation might best

be predicted using contextual variables. Implications for

research and practice are discussed.

KEY WORDS: retaliation, retaliatory acts, organizational

wrongdoing, organizational justice, whistleblowing,

whistleblower characteristics, whistleblowing


Incidents of organizational wrongdoing are

increasingly making headlines (e.g., fraud, corruption,

and other unethical acts in organizations like

Enron, WorldCom, Anderson, and Tyco). While

once thought to be rare, broad coverage of recent

corporate wrongdoing has led to a widely-held belief

that scandal may be uncovered in virtually every

business or organization (Anand et al., 2004). With

greater frequency, reports of wrongdoing are made

by members close to the inner workings of the

organization (e.g., by employees, board members or

internal auditors), rather than by external auditing

agencies. These individuals, often referred to as

whistle-blowers, risk retaliation both by their organization

(e.g., via job loss, demotion, decreased

quality of working conditions) and by the public

(e.g., character assassinations, accusations of being

merely ‘‘sour grapes’’, spies, or ‘‘squealers’’) in their

efforts to expose perceived immoral or illegal acts

(Jubb, 1999; Near and Miceli, 1985).

In this manuscript, we examine potential predictors

and correlates of whistleblowing behavior

and of retaliation against whistleblowers. Specifically,

we employ meta-analytic methodology to

examine the personal and contextual correlates of

Chockalingam Viswesvaran (Ph.D. University of Iowa) is a

Professor of Psychology at Florida International University.

His research interests include business ethics, personnel selection,

and human resource management. He has published in

Journal of Applied Psychology, Organizational

Behavior and Human Decision Processes, and

Psychological Bulletin. He has served on 5 editorial boards

and as an Associate Editor of the International Journal of

Selection and Assessment. He is an elected fellow of the

Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology as well

as Divisions 5 (Measurement) and 14 (Industrial-Organizational

Psychology) of the American Psychological


Jessica Mesmer-Magnus (Ph.D. 2005, Florida International

University) is an Assistant Professor of Management with the

Cameron School of Business at the University of North

Carolina at Wilmington. Her research interests include work/

family conflict/balance, organizational training program design,

whistleblowing/counterproductive behavior, and business

ethics. She has published in the Journal of Vocational

Behavior, Journal of Business Ethics and Journal of

Labor Research. She is certified as a Senior Professional in

Human Resources and has worked as a Human Resources

Manager for a US-based national consulting firm.

Journal of Business Ethics (2005) 62: 277–297 _ Springer 2005

DOI 10.1007/s10551-005-0849-1

whistleblowing intentions and behaviors, as well as

the correlates of retaliation against whistleblowers

in an effort to improve our understanding of the

whistleblowing process. Our main purpose in

conducting this study is to guide future research in

efforts to better predict and understand whistleblowing

and retaliation, and to inform practice as

to the aspects of the work environment that may

foster the potential for effective whistleblowing. In

the following review, we will (1) provide an

overview of the whistleblowing construct, (2) review

potential correlates of whistleblowing and of

retaliation against whistleblowers, and (3) draw a

distinction between an employee’s intent to blow

the whistle and actually blowing it. We hope to

inform research as to the feasibility of drawing

conclusions about whistleblowing from data based

on intentions rather than actual behaviors.

Whistleblowing defined

Whistleblowing is ‘‘the disclosure by organization

members (former or current) of illegal, immoral, or

illegitimate practices under the control of their

employers, to persons or organizations that may be

able to effect action.’’ (Near and Miceli, 1985, p. 4).

While whistleblowers typically have both internal

and external reporting channels available to report

organizational transgressions, research suggests that

nearly all whistleblowers initially attempt to report

wrongdoing via internal channels before utilizing (or

in lieu of) external channels (Miceli and Near, 1992,

2002). Even though whistleblowing via internal

channels is less threatening to an organization (as

compared with external reporting which threatens

public scrutiny or legal intervention; Miceli et al.,

1991a), whistleblowing within an organization is not

often welcomed. Rather, whistleblower reports of

wrongdoing are frequently buried or ignored (Miceli

et al., 1991b). In this scenario, the whistleblower is

unsuccessful in stopping organizational wrongdoing,

and worse, is placed in a position to experience

negative consequences to their action. Burying or

ignoring reports and retaliation against whistleblowers

are more likely when whistleblowing is

perceived by top management to represent a

questioning of or challenge to the organization’s

authority structure (e.g., Miceli and Near, 2002).

Whistleblowing research

Reviews of whistleblowing research have identified

two relatively robust foci of examination, in which

researchers have sought to identify the conditions

under which whistleblowing intentions are formed

and action taken, and retaliation occurs (Ellis and

Arieli, 1999; Miceli and Near, 2002). Studies of the

antecedents, correlates, and consequences of the

decision to blow the whistle on corporate wrongdoing,

as well as those focused on modeling its process,

have typically drawn conceptual distinctions between

those variables related to the whistleblower (i.e.,

whistleblower characteristics), the context in which

the whistleblowing occurs (i.e., contextual variables),

and aspects of the wrongdoing and wrong-doer (e.g.,

King. 1997; Miceli et al., 1991a; Miceli and Near,

1985, 1988; Miceli et al., 1991b). Research exploring

the role of these variables in the whistleblowing process

is typically approached in one of two ways: (1)

conducting surveys of actual whistleblowers, or (2)

using scenarios, interviews, or survey-based methods

to ascertain when an observer of organizational

wrongdoing will be likely to blow the whistle or will

report the intention to make a claim. Specifically,

while some authors have been successful in gaining

access to actual whistleblowers, others have resorted

to drawing conclusions about the whistleblowing

process using reports of whistleblowing intentions. In

the first case, actual whistleblowers have observed a

transgression, made the decision to report it, and then

actually followed through in making a claim. ‘‘Likely’’

or ‘‘intended’’ whistleblowers, on the other hand,

have been given information about a wrongdoing

(whether real or fictitious) and have reported either

‘‘how likely’’ they would be to blow the whistle or

whether they intended blow the whistle at some future

time. The obvious difference between these approaches

is that intended whistleblowers have not

actually followed through with blowing the whistle.

Researchers have justified using data gained from

intended rather than actual whistleblowers by (1)

citing the difficulty of carrying out investigations

into unethical conduct in actual organizations (e.g.,

Chiu, 2003), (2) suggesting that actual whistleblowers

censor the information they provide to

investigators due to the perception that data gathered

in actual organizations precludes their confidentiality

or anonymity (e.g., Sims and Keenan,

278 Jessica R. Mesmer-Magnus and Chockalingam Viswesvaran

1998), (3) illuminating the difficulty of locating

actual whistleblowers for questioning, or (4) citing

the inherently flawed nature of such data (e.g., selfreports

of past events). While we believe these

concerns to be valid, we also believe that conclusions

drawn based on testimonies of actual whistleblowers

will be different than those from likely

whistleblowers. The real question, however, is how

different will these conclusions be. Specifically, are

the correlates of actual whistleblowing similar enough

to those of likely/intended whistleblowing to

warrant firm conclusions about the whistleblowing

process? Or, given the nature of whistleblowing as a

behavior (rather than an attitude or intention), is

the ‘‘distance" between whistleblowing intent and

actual whistleblowing (e.g., deciding to blow the

whistle, accessing the internal or external channel,

making a claim of wrongdoing, supplying the

necessary evidence) so great as to void direct

comparison? Research on the intention–behavior

relationship suggests only a weak relationship

between the intention to act and the actual performance

of a behavior (Miller and Grush, 1988).

In fact, measures of behavioral intentions have accounted

for, at most, 10% of the variance in overt

behaviors (e.g., Mitchell, 1974). Further, the

intention–behavior relationship is thought to be

even weaker for some behaviors (i.e., those

behaviors that may be governed more heavily by

subjective norms and external support, like whistleblowing;

e.g., Miller and Grush, 1988; Mitchell,

1974). According to Bagozzi’s (1992) Volitional

Model of Goal Directed Behaviors, behavioral

intention and overt action are ‘‘separated" by

extensive psychological, motivational, and implementation

processes (i.e., planning, monitoring

activities, guidance and control, psychological

commitment, effort). This suggests there may be

multiple phases involved in moving from an

awareness of an illegitimate practice, to the decision

to blow the whistle, to actually making a claim.

Correlates of whistleblowing

Below we review research resulting from both reports

of whistleblowing intent and whistleblowing action.

Researchers have examined the same sets of variables

in studies of intended and actual whistleblowers (i.e.,

relating to aspects of the whistleblower, context, and

wrongdoing potentially predictive of whistleblowing

intention/action). A qualitative review of the whistleblowing

process yields relatively consistent findings

resulting from each approach. However, a cursory

examination of their results suggests stronger relationships

may exist between key variables and whistleblowing

intentions than whistleblowing actions.

Given that whistleblowing behavior may be heavily

governed by subjective norms and external supports, it

stands to reason that the relationship between intention

and action may be even lower for whistleblowing

than other actions.Using a meta-analytic approach, we

examine correlates of whistleblowing intent and actual

whistleblowing separately so as to lend a greater

understanding of their common relation to predictors

and correlates. We hope to identify the relationship

between whistleblowing intent and whistleblowing

action, so that researchmaybe better informed as to the

applicability of data regarding whistleblowing intentions

to conclusions about whistleblowing actions.

Whistleblower characteristics

A variety of personal characteristics related to the

decision to engage in whistleblowing have been

examined: whistleblower demographics (i.e., age,

sex, level of education, level of job held, etc.),

personality variables (i.e., locus of control), morality

(i.e., ethical judgment), and other characteristics

(i.e., job performance, organizational commitment,

role responsibility, approval of whistleblowing; e.g.,

Brief and Motowidlo, 1986; Near and Miceli, 1996).

While results seem to differ slightly across studies,

whistleblowers (as compared with inactive observers)

tend to have good job performance, to be more

highly educated, to hold higher-level or supervisory

positions, to score higher on tests of moral reasoning,

and to value whistleblowing in the face of unethical

behavior (e.g., Brabeck, 1984; Miceli and Near,

1984; Near and Miceli, 1996; Sims and Keenan,

1998). Also, it appears that whistleblowers are more

likely (than inactive observers) to report a rolerelated

responsibility or obligation to blow the whistle

(e.g., Near and Miceli, 1996). Age and organizational

tenure as predictors of whistleblowing have yielded

mixed results (e.g., Near and Miceli, 1996; Sims and

Keenan, 1998).

Whistleblowing and Retaliation 279

Empirical findings regarding the personal correlates

of whistleblowing intentions and actions are

typically interpreted through the lens of

social–psychological theories of behavior (cf. Casal

and Zalkind, 1995; Ellis and Arieli, 1999; Miceli and

Near, 1994; 2002; Near and Miceli, 1995). For

example, Hollander’s (1958) idiosyncrasy model

suggests that those individuals who are considered to

be the best contributors to group and organizational

objectives (i.e., have high job performance) will be

given greater leeway to deviate from group or

organizational norms. Specifically, employees with

good job performance will be more likely to have

accumulated idiosyncrasy credits (interpersonal

bonuses) within the organization, thus providing

some latitude to report wrongdoing without suffering

retaliation, and more importantly, to effect the

desired change (e.g., Miceli et al., 1991a). Similarly,

Pheffer and Salancik’s (1978) Resource Dependence

Theory posits that when one party possesses resources

upon which another is dependent, that party will be

more powerful. Within the whistleblowing context,

an individual with more experience, tenure, and

better job performance is more valuable to an organization,

thus giving them some leverage to report

misdeeds (e.g., Miceli and Near, 2002). Perceived

leverage may increase whistleblowing potential and

action. Theories of power relationships (e.g., French

and Raven, 1959) suggest that individuals gain (and

exercise) various bases of power by possessing valued

and not easily replaceable characteristics (e.g., desired

or unique skills, good job performance, tenure or

position status, credibility). Thus, whistleblowers

with better job performance and tenure are more

likely to be successful in persuading organizational

actors to stop the undesirable acts, also increasing the

potential they will report (or intend to report) a

transgression (e.g., Miceli and Near, 1994).

Organizational employees have three options to

address an unsatisfactory situation faced within an

organization: (1) to exit the organization, (2) voice

discontent (i.e., blow the whistle), or (3) remain

silent. Employees with greater tenure are more invested

in the organization and may prefer voice to

exit. This is also congruent with predictions from

theories of power in organizations, where employees

with greater tenure may have greater power to effect

change, and therefore may prefer voice to exit or

silence (e.g., French and Raven, 1959). In a similar

vein, individuals demonstrating higher organizational

commitment are more invested in staying with the

organization, therefore are more likely to blow the

whistle rather than exit the organization (particularly

when the prospect of continued wrongdoing is

uncomfortable or unacceptable). Thus, theoretical

explanations based on available idiosyncrasy credits,

power relations, voice-exit choices, and control

theory are congruent with empirical findings that

older, high performing, more committed and more

experienced employees are more likely to report

wrongdoing in and by organizations.

Contextual variables

Compared with the personal characteristics of

whistleblowers, contextual variables seem to explain

more variance in an individual’s decision to blow the

whistle (e.g., Miceli et al., 1991b; Miceli and Near,

1984; Near and Miceli, 1996). Such contextual

variables may include supervisor and coworker

support, organizational climate, threat of retaliation,

and size of organization. Research suggests that

perceptions of supervisor or top management support

are instrumental in the decision to blow the

whistle, and in the determination of which reporting

channel will be employed (i.e., internal vs. external

to the organization; e.g., Keenan, 2000; Sims and

Keenan, 1998). For instance, predictions from Social

Exchange Theory (Thibaut and Kelley, 1959) would

suggest that when there is a high level of supervisor

and co-worker support, norms of reciprocity will

develop that channel an individual to use internal

means to effect behavior change (before making the

charges public).

Other contextual variables are also worth pursuing.

For example, whistleblowing seems to be

greater in organizations that value whistleblowing

and in those in which the whistleblower perceives a

high congruence between personal and organizational

values (Berry, 2004; Near and Miceli, 1996).

This is in accordance with Enz’s (1988) theory of

value congruence. Similarly, potential whistleblowers

who perceive a threat of retaliation (by the

organization, immediate supervisors, or co-workers)

are much less likely to blow the whistle than those

who do not perceive a retaliatory climate (Keenan,

1995; King, 1999; Near and Miceli, 1996).

280 Jessica R. Mesmer-Magnus and Chockalingam Viswesvaran

Characteristics of wrong-doing

Evidence suggests that characteristics of the wrongdoing

(i.e., perceived severity of the wrongdoing,

evidence of wrongdoing) and/or characteristics of

the wrong-doer (i.e., likeability of or closeness to the

wrongdoer) may have significant implications in the

decision to blow the whistle. Wrongdoing type and

perceived severity has been found to be moderately

positively related to whistleblowing (Miceli and

Near, 1985; Near and Miceli, 1996). There is also a

tradition of research in whistleblowing that addresses

whether the wrongdoing is sufficiently costly to

warrant pursuit. Thus, it has been suggested that

potential whistleblowers look for ‘‘materiality’’ (as

auditors do) before embarking on any actions.

Similarly, organization members seem to be more

likely to blow the whistle on organization wrongdoing

when they have convincing evidence of the

wrongdoing, and when the transgression personally

affects them (Miceli and Near, 1985). The latter

finding parallels the research on the ‘‘bystander

effect’’ in explaining prosocial behavior: due to a

diffusion of responsibility, individuals are less likely

to help when several others are present (Latane and

Darley, 1970). On the other hand, to the extent

strong norms of reciprocity develop and social support

is high between organizational members,

wrongdoing that harms the organization and/or

co-workers is more likely to be reported (especially

using internal channels). Interestingly, in organizations

that depend upon the continuation of the

wrongdoing, whistleblowers are more likely to select

external reporting channels rather than attempt to

make an internal claim (Miceli and Near, 1985).

This relationship appears to be especially strong

when the whistleblower is fearful of retaliation by

the organization, supervisors, or coworkers (Miceli

and Near, 1985).

Retaliation against whistleblowers

Once an organization member has blown the whistle

on an organizational wrongdoing, management may

make two types of decisions: (1) whether to disregard

the claim or take appropriate action, and (2)

whether to reward or retaliate against the whistleblower

(Near and Miceli, 1986). It is assumed that a

whistleblower’s experiences (perceived or actual,

reward or retaliation) following a whistleblowing

event will have strong effects on others’ willingness

and likelihood to blow the whistle in the future

(Casal and Zalkind, 1995; Miceli and Near, 1992).

Logically, organizational response to whistleblower

action depends in part upon whether management

agrees with the merit of the claim and with the

whistleblower’s obligation to take action (Parmerlee

et al., 1982). Under circumstances where an

organization is dependent upon the continuation of

the wrongdoing or when they are not dependent

upon the whistleblower (e.g., Resource Dependence

Theory; Pheffer and Salancik, 1978), the

organization is more likely to retaliate against the

whistleblower and continue the wrongdoing (Near

and Miceli, 1986).

Retaliation may take many forms, ranging from

attempted coercion of the whistleblower to withdraw

accusations of wrongdoing to the outright

exclusion of the whistleblower from the organization

(e.g., Parmerlee et al., 1982). Other retaliatory

acts may include organizational steps taken to

undermine the complaint process, isolation of the

whistleblower, character defamation, imposition of

hardship or disgrace upon the whistleblower,

exclusion from meetings, elimination of perquisites,

and other forms of discrimination or harassment

(e.g., Parmerlee et al., 1982). Retaliatory acts may be

motivated by the organization’s desire to (1) silence

the whistleblower completely, (2) prevent a full

public knowledge of the complaint, (3) discredit the

whistleblower, and/or (4) discourage other potential

whistleblowers from taking action (Miceli and Near,

1994; Parmerlee et al., 1982).

Retaliation is not always initiated by organizational

top management. Rather, isolated acts of

retaliation may be initiated by the whistleblower’s

supervisor or coworkers with or without (formal or

informal) sanctioning by top management. Supervisors

may be motivated to retaliate against whistleblowers

for a variety of reasons, but they

frequently do so out of fear that a whistleblowing

claim signals their inability to maintain order and

compliance within their departments, or the fear that

valid complaints will result in the restriction or

cessation of their own operations or influence

(O’Day, 1972; Parmerlee et al., 1982).

Whistleblowing and Retaliation 281

Correlates of retaliation against


Predictors or correlates of retaliation against whistleblowers

fall into one of four broad categories: (1)

characteristics of the whistleblower, (2) actions taken

by the whistleblower in reporting organizational

wrongdoing, (3) situational or environmental variables

related to the organization, and (4) characteristics

of the wrongdoing or wrongdoer.

Characteristics of the whistleblower

Characteristics of the whistleblower examined in

relation to retaliation include whistleblower age,

education level, job level, role responsibility, and

value congruence with the organization. While

demographic characteristics of whistleblowers are

thought to be less predictive of retaliation than are

contextual variables (Miceli and Near, 2002), research

suggests that individuals who blow the whistle because

it is their job to do so (e.g., audit or role

responsibility) are less likely to be retaliated against

and are more likely to be successful in stopping the

transgression (e.g., Casal and Zalkind, 1995; Miceli

and Near, 2002). Further, Parmerlee and colleagues

(1982) found preliminary evidence that older

whistleblowers are more likely to be retaliated against

than are younger whistleblowers. Interestingly, their

results also suggest that whistleblowers that are valuable

to their organization (e.g., due to age, experience,

education, job level) are more likely to be retaliated

against as compared to less valuable whistleblowers.

Perhaps, for older individuals and those at higher job

levels and with more experience, greater organizational

loyalty is expected. When such individuals

blow the whistle, other organizational membersmay

feel a greater sense of betrayal, thus paving the way

for more retaliatory behaviors. This is especially true

when external channels are employed to report violations.

Norms of reciprocity and notions of perceived

justice violations (however misguided) appear to

predict retaliation. Theories of power also suggest that

whistleblowers at higher job levels, who are expected

to enforce the power structure, upon violating this

mandate are more likely to suffer retaliation. On the

other hand, individuals at lower levels of the organizational

structure may have lesser power, thus being easy

targets for retaliation. Finally, evidence suggests that

whistleblowerswhose values regarding right andwrong

are not congruent with those of the organization, are

more likely to be retaliated against (Miceli and Near,

1994), presumably because organization top management

does not deem the wrongdoing to be as

severe as is perceived by thewhistleblower, thus casting

doubt on themerit of the whistleblower’s complaint.

Actions taken by the whistleblower

Some researchers have examined whether specific

actions taken by a whistleblower influence the degree

to which they are retaliated against (e.g.,

whether the whistleblower used an internal or

external channel to report wrongdoing, whether the

whistleblower attempted to remain anonymous

during the whistleblowing process, how successful

the whistleblower was in ultimately curbing the

organizational wrongdoing, and even whether

others in the organization ignored wrongdoing).

Indeed, research suggests that when whistleblowers

report wrongdoing via external channels, they are

more likely to receive retaliation, and such retaliation

is likely to be more severe than when internal

channels are utilized (Near and Miceli, 1986).

Starting with Weber (1947) and Barnard (1938),

organizations have relied on the concept of legitimate

authority. Thus, the use of external channels

is more likely to elicit retaliatory behaviors, as it

violates the power and authority structure present

within the organization. Similarly, whistleblowers

who unsuccessfully attempted to remain anonymous

during the whistleblowing process were more likely

to be retaliated against (Miceli and Near, 1994).

Inconsistent results have been reported regarding

the effectiveness of the whistleblower in curbing

wrongdoing and experience of retaliation. Specifically,

Miceli and Near (2002) report that effective

whistleblowers are less likely to experience retaliation

unless the supervisor or top management simultaneously

curbed the wrongdoing and retaliated

simply for blowing the whistle. This suggests that

even when the transgression is agreed to be harmful

and is subsequently stopped, some organizations are

particularly sensitive to violations of the authority

structure via whistleblowing. This seems to be

282 Jessica R. Mesmer-Magnus and Chockalingam Viswesvaran

especially likely when whistleblowers have utilized

external channels.

Contextual variables

Context variables examined in relation to retaliation

include top management, supervisor, and coworker

support, as well as organizational climate for whistleblowing.

While lack of support from supervisors

and top management is likely predictive of retaliation

against whistleblowers, coworker support does

not appear to be related to perceived or experienced

retaliation (Near and Miceli, 1986). This finding is

likely due to the low occurrence of retaliation initiated

by coworkers (e.g., Miceli and Near, 1994).

However, this finding may be indicative of organizational

norms for treatment of whistleblowers.

Specifically, in organizations where whistleblowing

is not sanctioned, coworkers are likely less willing to

offer support or protection from retaliation to a


Characteristics of the wrongdoing

Lastly, in addition to the other predictors of retaliation,

researchers have examined aspects of the

wrongdoing that may influence retaliation (e.g.,

frequency, severity, and evidence of wrongdoing).

Logic suggests that when wrongdoing in an organization

is widespread or when the organization is

dependent upon the continuation of wrongdoing,

the organization’s top management would be more

likely to lash out at individuals who blow the whistle

(Casal and Zalkind, 1995). However, Near and

Miceli (1986) found that a whistleblower’s report of

(a) multiple incidents of wrongdoing, (b) multiple

individuals involved in the wrongdoing, or (c)

multiple sources of evidence, appear unrelated to

retaliation. This could be explained in terms of the

effort needed to retaliate against a whistleblower

with strong evidence of wrongdoing, particularly

when the wrongdoing is widespread and impacts

multiple individuals (Parmerlee et al., 1982).

In sum, our first purpose in conducting this research

was to investigate the antecedents and correlates

of whistleblowing, and to determine whether

these were different for whistleblowing intent versus

actual behavior. Our second purpose in conducting

the present study was to examine likely antecedents

and correlates of retaliation against whistleblowers,

and to determine the relative importance of each

variable in predicting retaliation. To address these

questions, meta-analytic cumulation of the extant

literature was employed to summarize and integrate

findings from individual studies.



One hundred and ninety-three correlations from 26

samples reported in 21 articles (total N = 18,781)

examining whistleblowing (including intent to blow

the whistle, likelihood of blowing the whistle, and

actual whistleblowing, both via internal and external

channels) and retaliation against whistleblowers were

included in this meta-analysis. To ensure a comprehensive

search, these studies were located using

the following strategies: (1) conducting a computerized

search of the PsycInfo (1887 to present) and

ABI Inform (1971 to present) databases, using

appropriate keywords and phrases (e.g., whistleblowing,

blowing the whistle, organizational wrongdoing,

retaliation, dissent, counterproductive behavior, corruption),

(2) conducting a manual search of references cited in

studies included in this meta-analysis and cited in this

manuscript, (3) snowballing references cited in

recently published reviews of the whistleblowing

literature (e.g., Gundlach et al., 2003; Miceli et al.,

1991b; Near and Miceli, 1995, 1996), and (4)

soliciting relevant, but as yet unpublished, research

from authors at the 2004 and 2005 meetings of the

Society of Industrial Organizational Psychology.

These methods yielded an initial 67 journal

articles, dissertations, and theses with the potential to

provide usable data. An attempt was made to obtain

all studies identified. When a manuscript was not

available via interlibrary loan, a request for a copy

was sent directly to the study’s primary author.

Studies were included only if they reported a correlation

(or an effect size which could be converted

to a correlation using appropriate conversion formulas)

between one of the several predictors and

whistleblowing (intent/likelihood or behavior) or

instances of retaliation. Studies that examined

Whistleblowing and Retaliation 283

constructs different from those of interest (e.g.,

perceptions of or reactions to unethical behaviors/

incidences other than those of actual or intended

whistleblowing) or those that reported only anecdotal

data, regression coefficients, or other effect

sizes not representative of a clean relationship

between whistleblowing intent/action and a relevant

correlate, were not code-able. When authors

reported separate correlations for different subgroups

(e.g., males and females), samples, administrations (as

in a longitudinal study), or measures of the same

construct, those correlations were examined separately.

The studies included in this meta-analysis are

listed in the references prefixed with an asterisk. The

studies included in this meta-analysis, for the most

part, utilized largely male samples of working adults

(average ages between mid-1920’s and late-1940’s)

who have (or could have) witnessed and reported (or

considered reporting) organizational wrongdoing

(i.e., internal auditors, military and government

employees, accountants). Experimental, scenariobased,

and survey-based designs were utilized.

Coding procedure

The first author made an initial independent effort to

code the 21 articles selected for inclusion in this

study. A random subset of these articles was coded

by the second author in an effort to determine coder

reliability. Inter-coder agreement was very high,

likely due to the objective nature of the data coded.

In reference to whistleblowing intentions and

actions, the variables coded included those related

to (1) the characteristics of a whistleblower (e.g.,

demographics, like age, sex, education, tenure, and

job level, and other characteristics, like ethical

judgment, job satisfaction, job performance, role

responsibility to blow the whistle, and approval of

whistleblowing), (2) the context in which whistleblowing

takes place (e.g., organizational climate for

whistleblowing, fear or threat of retaliation against

whistleblowers, organizational size, and supervisor

and co-worker support), and (3) the characteristics of

the wrongdoing or the wrong-doer (e.g., the seriousness

of the wrongdoing, the amount of evidence

of the wrongdoing possessed by the whistleblower,

whether the whistleblower was effective in stopping

the wrongdoing, and the degree to which the

whistleblower works near or closely with the

wrong-doer). These correlates were coded with respect

to whether the data was collected from intended

or likely whistleblowers or from actual

whistleblowers. Further, the data were coded with

respect to whether the whistleblower used (or intended

to use) an internal or external reporting

channel. If the reporting channel was not specified

or was mixed, this was coded separately. While we

had hoped to be able to examine correlations between

whistleblowing correlates and whistleblowing

intentions and behaviors by the type of reporting

channel employed (intended), there was an insufficient

number of studies available to facilitate this

specificity. We chose instead to examine the relationships

of whistleblowing correlates with either

intentions or actions, regardless of reporting channel.

In reference to correlates of retaliation against

whistleblowers, the variables coded included those

related to the (1) characteristics of a whistleblower

(e.g., like age, education, job level, role responsibility

to blow the whistle, perceived alternative job

opportunities, and degree to which the whistleblower

perceived value congruence with the organization),

(2) actions taken by the whistleblower

in reporting an organizational wrongdoing (e.g.,

utilizing an external channel, attempting to remain

anonymous during the whistleblowing process, and

success in stopping the wrongdoing), (3) contextual

variables (e.g., supervisor and co-worker support),

and (4) characteristics of the transgression (e.g.,

frequency of wrongdoing in the organization, the

severity of the transgression, and the amount of

evidence about the wrongdoing possessed by the



The meta-analytic methods outlined by Hunter and

Schmidt (2004) were employed to analyze this data.

The three outcomes investigated are (1) intent to

blow the whistle, (2) whistle-blowing behavior, and

(3) retaliation experienced. Each set of bivariate

correlations (between a predictor and outcome)

were analyzed separately. The sample-size weighted

mean observed correlation and the sample-size

weighted standard deviation of the observed correlations

were computed. These two estimated

284 Jessica R. Mesmer-Magnus and Chockalingam Viswesvaran

parameters provide a distribution of the observed

effect sizes. Unfortunately, insufficient information

was available to correct for unreliability in the

measures. This concern is mitigated to some extent

by the ‘‘objective’’ nature of some of the predictors

included (e.g., gender, tenure). To the extent statistical

artifacts like unreliability and range restriction

in the measures affect the results, our reported

findings underestimate the ‘‘true’’ magnitude of the

correlations and overestimate the ‘‘true’’ variability

across studies. Note, however, that our analyses are

conservative in that true correlations will actually be

higher and we are more likely to consider potential

moderators (even when their effects are weak).

The sampling error variance associated with the

mean observed correlation was computed (Hunter

and Schmidt, 2004) and subtracted from the

observed variance. The resulting residual variance

was used to compute the confidence intervals

around the observed mean. The percent of observed

variance attributable to sampling error was also

computed. Usually, if 60% or more of the observed

variance is attributable to sampling error, one can

assume that variance across studies due to uncorrected

artifacts like unreliability and range restriction

in the measures correlated can explain the remaining

variability. Such a finding suggests that the relationship

generalizes or transports across contexts.

Thus, our analyses could be construed to be a barebones

meta-analysis (Hunter and Schmidt, 2004).

We report for each meta-analysis, the number of

correlations included (k), the total sample size across

all estimates (N), the sample-size weighted mean

observed correlation (r), the sample-size weighted

standard deviation (SDr), the sampling error standard

deviation, the residual standard deviation (resSD),

the percent of observed variance attributable to

sampling error, and the 95% confidence interval

around the sample-size weighted mean observed

correlation. For studies with a mean observed correlation

of greater than 0.05, we conducted a file

drawer analysis (Hunter and Schmidt, 2004), and

provide a ‘‘file drawer k’’, which represents the

number of missing studies averaging null results

required to reduce our reported sample-size weighted

mean observed correlation to 0.05.

For the most part, we conducted meta-analyses

only when a minimum of three studies reporting a

relationship between whistleblowing intent/action

and a relevant correlate were available. However,

given that one of the purposes of this study was to

compare conclusions drawn from reports of whistleblowing

intentions with those drawn from reports

of whistleblowing actions, in cases where fewer than

three studies were available examining a ‘‘comparison’’

relationship of interest (i.e., a sufficient number

of studies were available to meta-analyze the relationship

between a correlate and either whistleblowing

intention or whistleblowing action, and less

than three were available for the other relevant metaanalysis),

we report the results of the other relationship

for purposes of description and comparison.


The results of the meta-analysis of correlations

between whistleblower characteristics and whistleblowing

intentions (Intent WB) and actions (Actual

WB) are presented in Table I. Results indicate that

older employees are more likely to intend to blow the

whistle than are younger employees (r = 0.19).

Unfortunately, no studies examining age and actual

whistleblowing were located, so we cannot be sure

whether this relationship translates to actual whistleblowers.

Sex and tenure appear to be related to actual

whistleblowing (r = 0.13 and 0.10, respectively), but

not to whistleblowing intent. Specifically, females

and more tenured employees appear to be slightly

more likely to actually blow the whistle. Job level

appears to have a similar relationship with whistleblowing

intentions (r = 0.10) as with actual whistleblowing.

These results support the contention that

older employees with greater tenure and at higher

levels are more likely to have the commitment and

power to employ voice rather than exit mechanisms.

More interesting than the demographic characteristics

of whistleblowers were the results related

to other whistleblower characteristics and intent or

actual whistleblowing. Specifically, ethical judgment,

while moderately related to the intent to blow the

whistle (r = 0.45), is not related to actual whistleblowing

(r = )0.08). Similarly, while role responsibility,

approval of whistleblowing, and perceptions

that blowing the whistle would be in one’s best

interests, appear to be predictive of the intent to

blow the whistle (r = 0.15, 0.44, and 0.31, respectively),

they do not appear to be related to actual

Whistleblowing and Retaliation 285

whistleblowing behavior (r = 0.06, 0.06, and 0.04).

Conversely, while job satisfaction and job performance

relate to actual whistleblowing (r = 0.19 and

0.11, respectively), they are unrelated to whistleblowing

intentions (r = )0.01 and 0.05, respectively).

Finally, organizational commitment does not

appear to be related to either whistleblowing intentions

or actual whistleblowing. It should be noted,

that while our analysis suggests that role responsibility

is unrelated to actual whistleblowing behavior, it is

possible that this relationship may be moderated by

the whistleblowing channel used. Specifically, the

data included in our analysis suggest a small, but

positive correlation may exist between role responsibility

and the use of an internal reporting channel,

while no (or a negative) relationship may exist with

the use of an external channel.

The results of the meta-analytic examination of

correlations between contextual aspects of the

whistleblowing situation and whistleblowing intentions

(Intent WB) and actions (Actual WB) are

presented in Table II. Organizational climate for


Correlations between Whistleblower Characteristics and Whistleblowing Intentions and Actions

Meta-analysis k N r SDr SESD resSD %SEV 95%CI File drawer k




Age Intent WB 3 1279 0.19 0.1902 0.0457 0.1847 5.77 )0.17/0.55 9

Actual WB – – – – – – – – –

Sex Intent WB 2 1131 )0.05 0.0866 0.0414 0.0760 22.93 )0.20/0.09 –

Actual WB 4 1707 0.13 0.0368 0.0460 0 100 0.13/0.13 7

Education Intent WB 3 1667 0.02 0.0867 0.0418 0.0759 23.32 )0.13/0.17 –

Actual WB 6 7851 0.02 0.0619 0.0275 0.0555 19.76 )0.09/0.12 –

Tenure Intent WB 3 1563 0.02 0.0651 0.0436 0.0483 44.93 )0.07/0.12 –

Actual WB 2 1383 0.10 0.0100 0.0376 0 100 0.10/0.10 2

Job level Intent WB 4 1938 0.10 0.1164 0.0439 0.1078 14.22 )0.11/0.31 4

Actual WB 8 9200 0.08 0.0320 0.0293 0.0130 83.56 0.05/0.10 5

Other characteristics Action

Ethical judgment Intent WB 4 1147 0.45 0.0707 0.0472 0.0527 44.49 0.35/0.56 32

Actual WB 2 320 )0.08 0.1669 0.0695 0.1518 17.32 )0.38/0.22 2

Job satisfaction Intent WB 2 838 )0.01 0.0503 0.0487 0.0128 93.58 )0.03/0.02 –

Actual WB 2 1164 0.19 0.0300 0.0399 0 100 0.19/0.19 6



Intent WB 8 2170 0.03 0.0637 0.0603 0.0202 89.89 )0.01/0.07 –

Actual WB – – – – – – – – –

Job performance Intent WB 2 1315 0.05 0 0.0389 0 – 0.05/0.05 –

Actual WB 2 1401 0.11 0.0156 0.0373 0 100 0.11/0.11 3

Role responsibility Intent WB 4 1494 0.15 0.1556 0.0474 0.1482 9.28 )0.14/0.44 8

Actual WB 6 7762 0.06 0.1048 0.0274 0.1011 6.85 )0.14/0.26 2

Approve of


Intent WB 6 2143 0.44 0.1406 0.0394 0.1349 7.86 0.18/0.71 47

Actual WB 2 5514 0.06 0.0200 0.0190 0.0064 89.92 0.05/0.07 1

Notes: k = number of studies included in the meta-analysis; N = total number of participants across studies included in the

meta-analysis; r = sample-size weighted mean observed correlation; SDr = tandard deviation of sample-size weighted

mean observed correlation; SESD = standard error of the standard deviation; resSD = residual standard deviation;

%SEV = percent variance due to sampling error; 95% CI = 95% confidence interval formed around the sample-size

weighted mean observed correlation (the number before the slash indicates the lower bound and the number after the

slash indicates the upper bound); File drawer k indicates the number of missing studies averaging null results required to

reduce the mean observed correlation to 0.05. Intent WB indicates participants indicated they intended or were likely to

blow the whistle on a wrongdoing; Actual WB indicates participants actually blew the whistle on a wrongdoing.

286 Jessica R. Mesmer-Magnus and Chockalingam Viswesvaran

whistleblowing is more strongly related to whistleblowing

intentions than actual whistleblowing, but

the direction of the relationship is consistent

(r = 0.28 and 0.10, respectively). Of greater interest

is that threat of retaliation is negatively related to the

intent to blow the whistle, but appears to be unrelated

to actual whistleblowing behaviors (r = )0.27

and 0.04, respectively). Also intriguing is the finding

that supervisor support is positively related to

whistleblowing intent (r = 0.28), but negatively

related to actual whistleblowing (r = )0.12), suggesting

that supervisor support may facilitate one’s

decision to blow the whistle, but work to inhibit

behaviors required to actually blow it.

The results of the meta-analysis of correlations

between characteristics of the wrongdoing and of

the wrong-doer and whistleblowing intentions

(Intent WB) and actions (Actual WB) are presented

in Table III. We found similar small relationships

between seriousness of the wrongdoing and whistleblowing

intentions and actions (r = 0.16 and 0.13,

respectively). Importantly, the observed correlations

used to compute the relationship between severity of

the transgression and whistleblowing intent varied

widely in magnitude, potentially signaling the presence

of a moderator. Of interest is the moderate

effect size found for the relationship between

closeness to the wrong-doer and intent to blow the

whistle (r = 0.45); this finding suggests that the

closer the potential whistle-blower is to the wrongdoer

(whether interpersonally or with respect to

organizational structure), the greater their intention

to blow the whistle on the transgression. Unfortunately,

similar data was not available for actual


Correlations between contextual variables and whistleblowing intentions and actions

Meta-analysis k N r SDr SESD resSD %SEV 95%CI File drawer k

Contextual variables Action

Organizational climate

for whistleblowing

Intent WB 8 2947 0.28 0.1738 0.0457 0.1677 6.92 )0.05/0.61 37

Actual WB 5 6960 0.10 0.0375 0.0263 0.0266 49.45 0.05/0.15 5

Threat of retaliation Intent WB 7 2849 )0.27 0.1292 0.0459 0.1208 12.61 )0.51/-0.03 31

Actual WB 8 11974 0.04 0.0907 0.0251 0.0872 7.65 )0.13/0.21 –

Supervisor support Intent WB 4 1443 0.28 0.0530 0.0484 0.0216 83.41 0.23/0.32 19

Actual WB 2 789 )0.12 0.0088 0.0495 0 100 )0.12/)0.12 3

Organizational size Intent WB 1 725 )0.10 – – – – – 1

Actual WB 5 5803 0.09 0.0783 0.0286 0.0729 13.34 )0.05/0.23 4

See Note to Table I.


Correlations between characteristics of the wrongdoing/wrongdoer and whistleblowing intentions and actions

Meta-analysis k N r SDr SESD resSD %SEV 95% CI File drawer k

Wrongdoing/wrongdoer Action

Seriousness of


Intent WB 7 3207 0.16 0.2642 0.0413 0.2609 2.44 )0.35/0.67 16

Actual WB 6 6460 0.13 0.0348 0.0299 0.0180 73.41 0.10/0.17 10

Evidence of


Intent WB 1 636 )0.06 – – – – – 1

Actual WB 3 4759 0.06 0.0079 0.0250 0 100 0.06/0.06 1

Closeness to


Intent WB 4 965 0.45 0.1768 0.0527 0.1687 8.88 0.12/0.78 32

Actual WB – – – – – – – – –

Effective in stopping


Intent WB – – – – – – – – –

Actual WB 3 1714 )0.07 0.0741 0.0410 0.0617 30.65 )0.19/0.05 2

See Note to Table I.

Whistleblowing and Retaliation 287

whistleblowing, so we do not know if this relationship

will generalize. Also noteworthy is the small

negative correlation found between actual whistleblowing

and the whistleblower’s success in stopping

the wrongdoing (r = )0.07). This finding suggests

that whistleblowers are not frequently successful in

their efforts to curb organizational wrongdoing. It is

worth noting, however, that all correlations included

in this computation reflect the success of whistleblowers

who utilized an external reporting channel.

Lastly, displayed in Table IV are the results of the

meta-analysis of correlates of retaliation against

whistleblowers. Information is arranged according to

the four types of correlates examined (1) characteristics

of the whistleblower, (2) actions taken by the

whistleblower, (3) contextual variables, and (4)

characteristics of the wrongdoing. Education, job

level, and the role-prescribed responsibility to blow

the whistle appear to be relatively unrelated to

retaliation against whistleblowers (r = 0.04, )0.07,

and )0.07, respectively). While small relationships, it

is important to note that the correlation between

retaliation and role responsibility is in the desired

direction. Also, while based on only one study each,

it appears that older whistleblowers are more likely

to be retaliated against, as are those with greater

perceived value congruence with the organization.

This second finding may indicate a misperception as

to the organization’s values regarding whistleblowing

and/or wrongdoing.

Not surprisingly, whistleblowers who utilize an

external reporting channel are more likely to be

retaliated against (r = 0.17). However, those whistleblowers

who are effective in stopping the transgression

are less likely to experience retaliation for

blowing the whistle (r = )0.20), as are those who

produce convincing evidence (r = )0.25), and those

who enjoy support from their supervisor (r = )0.39).

More intriguing, however, was our finding that

blowing the whistle on serious transgressions or

those that frequently occur in the organization, are

more likely to be met with retaliation, than are

infrequent or less severe wrongdoings (r = 0.30 and

0.13, respectively).


Our purpose in conducting this research was to

examine the antecedents and correlates of whistleblowing

and retaliation against whistleblowers so

that we might better understand their role as predictors

and within the whistleblowing process. A

secondary goal was to evaluate the feasibility of

drawing conclusions about whistleblowing utilizing

data gathered on whistleblowing intentions rather

than whistleblowing actions. Overall, our results

suggest that the predictors of the intent to blow the

whistle are not the same as those of actual whistleblowing.

Further, many of the variables typically

measured in studies of whistleblowing are stronger


Correlations of retaliation against a whistleblower

Meta-analysis k N r SDr SESD resSD %SEV 95%CI File drawer k

Whistleblower characteristics

Education 5 2405 0.04 0.0329 0.0452 0 100 0.04/0.04 –

Job level 6 2624 )0.07 0.0606 0.0471 0.0381 60.41 )0.14/0.01 3

Role responsibility 4 2314 )0.07 0.0730 0.0408 0.0605 31.27 )0.18/0.05 2

Whistleblower actions

Used external channel 4 2337 0.17 0.0871 0.0391 0.0778 20.12 0.02/0.33 10

Success in stopping wrongdoing 5 2410 )0.20 0.0782 0.0425 0.0656 29.63 )0.33/)0.07 15

Contextual variables

Supervisor support 3 923 )0.39 0.0027 0.0482 0 100 )0.39/)0.39 21

Co-worker support 3 1194 0.03 0.0155 0.0501 0 100 0.03/0.03 –

Characteristics of the wrongdoing

Frequency of wrongdoing 2 855 0.30 0.0788 0.0448 0.0648 32.30 0.18/0.43 10

Seriousness of wrongdoing 6 3046 0.13 0.0503 0.0431 0.0259 73.58 0.08/0.19 10

See Note to Table I.

288 Jessica R. Mesmer-Magnus and Chockalingam Viswesvaran

correlates of whistleblowing intent than of whistleblowing


Correlates of whistleblowing

We organized the presentation of the results of our

meta-analyses of whistleblowing (intent and action)

according to characteristics of the whistleblower,

work context, wrongdoing and wrongdoer, as we

felt that such variables would provide unique

information regarding the whistleblowing process

(Gundlach et al., 2003; Miceli and Near, 1988; Near

and Miceli, 1995, 1996). Further, we anticipated

differences in both the direction and strength of

these relationships according to these dimensions

(e.g., Dozier and Miceli, 1985; Miceli et al., 1991b;

Near and Miceli, 1995). We expected that demographics

and other characteristics of the whistleblower

would have stronger correlations with the

intent to blow the whistle, while contextual variables

and aspects of the transgression would have stronger

implications for actual whistleblowing.

Whistleblower characteristics

With regard to demographic characteristics, our

results suggest that whistleblowing intent might best

be predicted from whistleblower age and the level of

the job held by the intended whistleblower. Similarly,

actual whistleblowing is likely to be predicted

by job level and organizational tenure but also the

sex of the whistleblower (e.g., Miceli et al., 1991b).

While we found no studies which examined age of

whistleblower with actual whistleblowing, one

would think that older employees are more likely to

hold positions at higher levels within the organizational

hierarchy and also have greater tenure (this is

particularly true for tenure-based promotion systems

commonly found in government organizations).

Therefore, we would expect that older employees

are also more likely to follow through with blowing

the whistle. Also likely is that older workers are

more secure in their value systems than are younger

workers, and therefore are more willing to defend

these values throughout the lengthy whistleblowing

process and in the face of retaliation (Chiu, 2003).

Likewise, more senior and higher-level employees

are more likely to have access organizational members

with the ability to exact change within the

organization (Keenan, 2000). Consistent with control

theory and theories of power, organizational

members with greater tenure and of higher job levels

usually have stronger power bases (as compared with

their younger and newer counterparts), and therefore

may be more confident in their abilities to exact

change within the organization via whistleblowing.

In other words, these individuals may be more

certain that the risks they take in blowing the whistle

will not be in vain. Lastly, employees higher in the

organizational hierarchy and those that have been

with the organization for longer are likely to have a

greater understanding of, appreciation for, and

commitment to the espoused values of the organization,

and thus a greater desire to protect this culture

(e.g., Berry, 2004; Schein, 1996).

We were surprised to find that ethical judgment,

approval of whistleblowing, and a perception that

blowing the whistle is in one’s best interests were

related to whistleblowing intent but not to actual

whistleblowing. One would have thought that

morality or ethicality, in particular, would be predictive

of whistleblowing (e.g., Brabeck, 1984; Brief

and Motowildo, 1986; Miceli et al., 1991b). Certainly,

we anticipated that workers would be more

likely to blow the whistle when they perceive that it

is in their best interests to do so (e.g., Miceli and

Near, 1985). Perhaps, however, the influence of

contextual factors on the decision to blow the

whistle (e.g., fear of retaliation, perceived costs

versus benefits, severity of the transgression, perceived

support from supervisors and coworkers, etc.)

are so great as to preclude whistleblowing on the

basis of personal need or desire. Or, perhaps, the

commitment to the organization is so great that the

desire to meet the needs of the greater workgroup is

stronger than that of meeting individual needs.

While this potential is appealing, we were disheartened

to find no correlation between organizational

commitment and whistleblowing intent (e.g.,

Somers and Casal, 1994). We expected to find that

greater organizational commitment would yield a

desire to exercise voice rather than either silence or

exit strategies. It should be noted, however, that we

were unable to locate any studies that reported a

correlation between actual whistleblowing and

organizational commitment. As such, we cannot be

sure that there is not a relationship between this

variable and the decision to blow the whistle.

Whistleblowing and Retaliation 289

Of particular interest is that job satisfaction and job

performance were positively related to whistleblowing

action but not to whistleblowing intent.

This finding makes sense in light of various propositions

of resource dependence and power theories

(e.g., Miceli et al., 1991b). Specifically, while one’s

job performance may not enter into the decision to

blow the whistle on an organizational wrongdoing,

when one considers the likelihood that one might be

able to effect change by blowing the whistle and/or

when one considers the likelihood one will suffer

retaliation by organizational members, it becomes

likely that the intended whistleblower will consider

their relative value to and power within the organization

prior to taking action (e.g., Miceli and Near,

1994). Specifically, resource dependence theory

suggests that individuals with better job performance

are more valuable to the organization, suggesting the

organization officials would be more likely to want to

correct the transgression than risk losing the whistleblower

(e.g., Miceli et al., 1991b). Similarly,

power theory would predict that high performing

whistleblowers would be in a better position to exact

change through voice mechanisms (cf. French and

Raven, 1959). Also, in the making the decision to

engage in whistleblowing, an employee with better

job performance might be more comfortable in

expressing a dissenting opinion than their fellow

employees who may possess fewer idiosyncrasy

credits (due to less satisfactory job performance; e.g.,

Hollander, 1958). Future research should examine

the potential for job performance to predict retaliation

against whistleblowers. It would seem likely that

individuals with higher job performance would have

accumulated more idiosyncrasy credits and would

also be less likely to suffer retaliation.

Curiously, we found that role responsibility to

blow the whistle is predictive of intent to blow the

whistle but not of actual whistleblowing. This finding

is unexpected, as one would expect that the organization

creates and staffs internal ‘‘watchdog’’ positions

to facilitate whistleblowing on unsanctioned practices

(e.g., Miceli et al., 1991b; Near and Miceli, 1996).

Furthermore, in certain occupations and industries,

all employees are expected to voice concerns of illegitimate

or unsanctioned activities (e.g., government

employees, military, and employees of many government

contractors). However, it may be that these

individuals actually follow through with blowing the

whistle, but utilize non-traditional channels in doing

so. While in many cases this would still qualify as

whistleblowing, use of such reporting channels makes

the tracking and identification of these whistleblowers

more difficult. Alternatively, certain internal

auditors may be chosen from a select inner circle

within the organization and possess the ultimate goal

of preventing damage to the organization’s public

image rather than stopping wrongdoing. In this case,

these individuals may opt to ignore certain transgressions

they know to be unethical, or in some other

non-traditional way deal with the transgression so as

to minimize public knowledge and scrutiny. Our data

does not preclude the potential that this relationship

(between role responsibility and whistleblowing) is

moderated by the whistleblowing channel utilized

(internal versus external). Regardless, our data suggest

that having a role-related responsibility to blow the

whistle may not be sufficient to ensure whistleblowing

action. Other factors may be of greater

importance, or may play a moderating role, in the

whistleblowing decision-making process. This is a

matter for future research.

Contextual aspects of whistleblowing

An examination of the meta-analyses of contextual

variables and whistleblowing reveal somewhat surprising

findings for organizational climate, fear of

retaliation, and supervisor support. As expected,

organizational climate for whistleblowing is positively

related to whistleblowing intent (Berry, 2004),

however, the relationship is considerably weaker for

whistleblowing action. This may be a function of the

‘‘distance’’ between whistleblowing intent and

action (e.g., Bagozzi, 1992). Alternatively, this may

signal the presence of other contextual or individual

variables that may moderate this relationship and

may account for the reduction in explained variance.

For example, supervisor support, if low, may serve

to de-motivate an employee to blow the whistle

even when this individual is part of an organization

that (with regard to organizational wrongdoing)

values employee dissent (Dozier and Miceli, 1985;

Miceli and Near, 1985). Also of interest, is that

threat or fear of retaliation appears to greatly reduce

the likelihood that an observer of wrongdoing will

intend to blow the whistle, but does not impact

actual whistleblowing. Therefore, it appears that

once the intention to whistle-blow is formed, fear of

290 Jessica R. Mesmer-Magnus and Chockalingam Viswesvaran

retaliation for whistleblowing does not serve to

de-motivate action. It may be that, in their decision

to blow the whistle, employees weigh aspects of the

situation (like their relative power to exact change,

the severity of the transgression, the likelihood that

they will experience retaliation for blowing the

whistle on this particular transgression, which is also

likely to be a function of their relative power within

the organization and their relative balance of idiosyncrasy

credits which will ‘‘protect’’ them from

retaliation), and thus only decide to blow the whistle

when they perceive their chances of receiving

retaliation are low (e.g., Miceli and Near, 1994; Sims

and Keenan, 1998). Also, once the decision is made

to blow the whistle, they may be so committed to

taking action that they are no longer able to back

out. Researchers should explore the possibility that

the relationship between fear of retaliation and actual

whistleblowing is moderated by such processes and

contextual variables, as well as by the reporting

channel employed (Miceli and Near, 2002).

Another unexpected finding was that for supervisor

support and whistleblowing intent versus action (e.g.,

Miceli et al., 1991b). Specifically, supervisor support

seems to increase the likelihood that an observer of

wrongdoing will intend to blow the whistle, but to

decrease actual whistleblowing behavior (e.g., Near

and Miceli, 1986). This suggests that employees who

enjoy the support of their supervisors in some domains

perceive that this support is likely to extend to a

whistleblowing situation. As such, they may be more

likely to intend to blow the whistle upon observing a

wrongdoing, knowing their supervisor will likely

‘‘back them up’’. However, given the reverse in the

direction of this relationship for actual whistleblowing,

some other variable or process is likely acting as a

moderator. One possible explanation is that employees

with supportive supervisors may feel a greater

responsibility to ensure that their supervisors are not

adversely affected by a whistleblowing claim. These

individuals may choose silence to voice in an effort to

spare the supervisor embarrassment or discipline that

may result from a report of illegitimate, unsanctioned,

or immoral acts occurring within their department/


The role of wrongdoing in whistleblowing

Examination of meta-analytic results for the influence

of characteristics of the wrongdoing and wrongdoer

on whistleblowing yield two interesting findings.

First, while the relationships were similar for whistleblowing

intent and action, we were surprised by the

relatively small correlation between severity of the

wrongdoing and whistleblowing. We would have

thought that a more serious transgression would merit

action more so than a less severe transgression (e.g.,

Trevino and Victor, 1992). In fact, severity of the

wrongdoing explains less than 3% of the variance in

both whistleblowing intent and action. It may be that

in some cases employees perceive that reports of very

severe organizational wrongdoing are more likely to

be met with resistance and retaliation by organizational

members (e.g., Dozier and Miceli, 1985).

Alternatively, this finding may be indicative of an

overall inconsistency in assessments of the severity of

various actions. For example, it may be that individuals

with varying value orientations may assess the

same action as more or less severe, or even as more or

less wrong. Additionally, this may indicate incongruence

between the employee’s values and the

organization’s espoused values (e.g., Miceli and Near,

1994). Researchers might explore the possibility that

value congruence between the organization and the

whistleblower moderates the relationship between

transgression severity and whistleblowing.

Finally, we were at first somewhat amazed by the

strong positive correlation between whistleblowing

intent and relational closeness to the wrong-doer (i.e.,

the closer the observer was to the wrong-doer, whether

interpersonally or with respect to organizational

structure, the more likely it was that he or she intended

to blow the whistle; e.g., King, 1997). However, it

would make sense that one is more likely to observe

wrongdoing by a person with which one is in close

proximity. Further, the closer one is to the wrongdoer,

the more likely one has access to sufficient evidence

of wrongdoing. Knowledge of wrongdoing is

logically the first step in the whistleblowing process. It

would be interesting, however, to determine whether

this relationship holds for actual whistleblowing.

Unfortunately, no studies were found that reported

this correlation.

Intending to blow the whistle versus actually blowing it

Our discussion of the correlates of whistleblowing

intent versus actual whistleblowing points to a likely

Whistleblowing and Retaliation 291

difference in the predictors of each. More importantly,

these differences probably reflect the ‘‘psychological

distance’’ between behavioral intention

and overt action (Bagozzi, 1992). Specifically,

whistleblowing intention and action are logically

separated by psychological, motivational, and

implementation processes (e.g., planning, monitoring,

guidance and control, psychological commitment,

effort; e.g., Azjen, 1992; Bagozzi, 1992).

Therefore, a complete model of the whistleblowing

process requires the identification and explication of

the entire process (from observation, to intent, to

action, and all steps in between). Certainly, most

researchers in this domain are interested in drawing

conclusions about actual whistleblowing; however,

few have designed research to allow such enumeration

of the process. We suspect that this is a

byproduct of the difficulty in gaining longitudinal

data and data from actual whistleblowers (e.g., Chiu,

2003; Sims and Keenan, 1998).

Of the studies included in this meta-analysis, only

two examined whistleblowing from the perspective

of both the intended and actual whistleblower;

therefore only two reported a correlation between

intending to blow the whistle and actual whistleblowing

behavior. The sample-size weighted, mean

observed correlation between whistleblowing intent

and actual whistleblowing was only 0.05 (total

N = 789, k = 2). While we can not be sure of the

true relationship between intent and action, this is

consistent with research in other domains that has

reported a lower than expected relationship (e.g.,

Ajzen, 1992). In sum, generalizing from intent to

actual whistleblowing may not be a wise strategy.

Granted, actual behavior is more difficult to study,

especially in a sensitive area such as this. However, it

is still imperative that such studies are conducted and


Correlates of retaliation against whistleblowers

We examined four potential types of correlates of

retaliation against whistleblowers. The strongest

correlates of retaliation against whistleblowers were

found for characteristics of the wrongdoing

(frequency and severity of wrongdoing), whistleblower

actions during the whistleblowing process

(use of an external reporting channel and success in

stopping the wrongdoing), and contextual aspects,

namely supervisor support. It is interesting that positive

correlations surfaced between retaliation and

both the severity and the frequency of the wrongdoing.

This finding likely reflects a greater threat to

the organization’s future performance by whistleblowers

who report information on a severe or

frequent organizational wrongdoing (e.g., Miceli

and Near, 2002). This may be particularly strong in

instances where an external reporting channel is

utilized, as the risk of public scrutiny and legal

intervention increases (Miceli et al., 1991b). In

addition, in organizations where wrongdoing is

frequent, it is more likely that a cultural norm

actively operates to continue and support the

transgressions (e.g., Schein, 1996). In such cases, a

whistleblower who reports wrongdoing (regardless

of the channel employed) is actively violating this

norm. According to Schein (1996), norm-violators,

particularly in cases where a norm is widely shared,

often face severe repercussions. Whistleblowers who

already possess fewer idiosyncrasy credits (e.g., due

to low job performance, low organizational value,

etc.; Hollander, 1958), upon dissent, are likely to

face the harshest retaliation.

As expected, whistleblowers who possess convincing

evidence of wrongdoing and those who are

effective in stopping the transgression are less likely

to be retaliated against (e.g., Miceli and Near, 2002;

Parmerlee et al., 1982). It is logical that when the

whistleblower possesses convincing evidence of the

transgression, the organization would be well-served

to halt the practice and not retaliate. Similarly, it

seems likely that in organizations where whistleblowers

are effective in stopping wrongdoing, the

organization and the whistleblower were in agreement

that the wrongdoing must be stopped (e.g., the

practice violated the espoused values of the organization),

and therefore it would be less likely that the

whistleblower would experience organizationallysanctioned

retaliation (Miceli and Near, 1994). It is

important to note that retaliation may occur even

when not sanctioned by the organization’s top

management (Miceli and Near, 1994; Parmerlee

et al., 1982). Future research should examine

sanctioned and unsanctioned retaliation separately,

as this would facilitate a more comprehensive

understanding of the retaliation process.

292 Jessica R. Mesmer-Magnus and Chockalingam Viswesvaran

We were not surprised to find that whistleblowers

who employed an external reporting channel were

more likely to suffer retaliation, as the use of an

external channel is likely to be interpreted as a threat

to the organization’s structure and legitimate

authority (e.g., Miceli and Near, 2002; Near and

Miceli, 1986; Weber, 1947). The correlation,

however, was smaller than would be predicted by

these theories. This is likely due to the immediate

external scrutiny that these organizations would

suffer as a result of the whistleblower’s use of an

external reporting channel (Dworkin and Baucus,

1998). Any retaliatory acts sanctioned by the

organization are likely also to be reported through

this external channel, thus further increasing the

potential for public scrutiny and legal intervention

(Miceli et al., 1991).

Our finding of a small negative relationship

between job level and retaliation is also noteworthy.

Power theories and dependence-control theories

would have predicted that individuals of higher job

level would be in a better position to blow the

whistle on organizational wrongdoing (Casal and

Zalkind, 1995; Near and Miceli, 1986). However,

organizational members may feel a greater sense of

betrayal when a member of higher status in the

organization blows the whistle (e.g., Parmerlee et al.,

1982). Therefore, instead of being better protected

against retaliation, members of higher job level may

be at somewhat higher risk. Given the small relationship

we found, however, neither of these

explanations fit the data. If valuable members of the

organization are more likely to be retaliated against

(due to feelings of betrayal, violation of power

structure, etc.), it may be that job level is no longer

an appropriate proxy variable for value. Specifically,

organizations are increasingly hiring for top management

and supervisory positions from outside the

organization, rather than promoting from within (as

is typical in tenure-based promotion systems). In

these cases, individuals of high level in the organization

are not necessarily more valuable, nor do they

necessarily possess a relationship with the organization

as a whole that would induce a feeling of

betrayal after whistleblowing. Specifically, a feeling

of betrayal implies a break of a psychological contract

made in a dyad (i.e., between two individuals,

such as between the whistleblower and the retaliator,

who is perhaps a supervisor or coworker) not

between an entire organization and the whistleblower.

Future research should explore the potential

that retaliation is better predicted by examining

dyadic interactions or relationships (between whistleblower

and likely retaliator) than by using a proxy

that is representative of an organizational-level variable

(i.e., job level, value to organization, etc.; e.g.,

Casal and Zalkind, 1995).

While we did not have access to such data, it

would be interesting to examine the potential for

retaliation against intended whistleblowers. For

example, what is the likelihood that these individuals

share their intentions with others in the organization,

perhaps to assess if, when, or how they should

blow the whistle on organizational wrongdoing

(e.g., via social comparison processes)? Individuals

with whom they share their intentions may be in a

position to retaliate against the intended whistleblower

(perhaps to prevent the individual from

taking the charges any further), or to share his or her

intentions with another organizational member who

is in a position to retaliate. As this would have

implications for actual whistleblowing, it seems

important to understand and enumerate this process

as well as to determine the predictors and correlates

of retaliation against potential whistleblowers.

Practical implications

Whistleblowing on organizational wrongdoing has

the potential for many positive outcomes for the

organization (Miceli and Near, 1994; Near and

Miceli, 1995). Our results have a few implications

for the types of actions that should be taken to improve

the potential for actual whistleblowing in

organizations. First, consistent with past research

findings (e.g., Miceli et al., 1991b), our results suggest

that employees of higher tenure and job level

are more likely to blow the whistle. It may be that

younger employees or those of a lower job level are

uncomfortable with reporting wrongdoing (particularly

by those at a higher level in the organizational

hierarchy). Similarly, these employees may lack

sufficient power or knowledge to blow the whistle

and effect change (Keenan, 1995). Organizations

may consider targeting this group of employees for

specific training focused on (1) what types of activities

might be considered unethical/unsanctioned,

Whistleblowing and Retaliation 293

(2) how reports of wrongdoing might be made, and

(3) reemphasizing the organization’s commitment to

ethical practices, etc. (e.g., Miceli and Near, 1994).

Perhaps such training might be delivered during the

organizational orientation process. However, the

organization should be certain that these espoused

ethical values are consistent with those that are

enacted on a daily basis (e.g., Schein, 1996).

Incongruence between espoused and enacted values

may lead to feelings of confusion and even suspicion

within the targeted audience.

Second, we found that ethical judgment is related

to whistleblowing intent, but not actual whistleblowing.

This suggests that employees may be aware

when an observed practice is questionable and

should be reported, however, this knowledge is

insufficient to instigate actual reporting. While this is

also a matter for future research, organizational

officials should consider the presence of other variables

within their control that may work against

whistleblowing (e.g., fear or threat of retaliation,

perception that the costs of whistleblowing outweigh

potential benefits, accurate perception/evaluation

of the severity of the transgression, value

congruence with the organization, perception that

whistleblowing will not lead to change, etc.) Similarly,

our research suggests that whistleblowers may

not frequently be successful in stopping wrongdoing.

A potential whistleblower may weigh this into his or

her decision to actually blow the whistle.

Third, our results suggest that role responsibility

to blow the whistle is relatively unrelated to actual

whistleblowing. Organizations should consider the

possibility that the individuals in these positions

(wrongly) believe their primary responsibility is to

‘‘save face’’ for the organization by, at times, covering

up transgressions, or by dealing with wrongdoing

using other non-traditional or unsanctioned

measures. Further, even though these employees

have been appointed to a ‘‘watchdog’’ role, they

may still fear they would betray their organization by

blowing the whistle; similarly, they may still fear

unsanctioned retaliation for whistleblowing by

coworkers or supervisors. Top management should

ensure that the internal reporting channels are

‘‘free from leaks’’ and are manned by trustworthy


Finally, when possible, organizations may consider

publicizing when an incident of whistleblowing has

led to positive change. This act may improve the

likelihood that other potential whistleblowers will be

motivated to alert top management of wrongdoing.

It would be wise, however, to exercise caution that

this practice does not foster unsanctioned retaliatory


Limitations and future research directions

One limitation of our analyses is the relatively small

number of studies included under each meta-analysis.

Although the number of studies was few, the

actual sample sizes were often in the thousands

suggesting some generalizability of our findings.

Furthermore, by integrating findings over three

decades of research, this study provides a comprehensive

view of the correlates of intended and actual

whistleblowing as well as lending insight into the

retaliation process. Thus, while there remains a need

for more individual studies, this meta-analysis was

successful in providing a snapshot of the current state

of the field as well as in providing directions for

improving future research.

A second concern relates to our choice of only

published articles in the meta-analyses. Arguments

can be made that only significant findings are published,

and thus by confining ourselves to the published

literature we have overestimated the effect

sizes. This is the classic file-drawer effect (Rosenthal,

1979). To address this potential concern, we conducted

file-drawer analyses and found that in many

instances we needed several studies to reverse our

substantive findings.

A third limitation concerns the lack of reliability

data available in the studies included in this metaanalysis.

All measures are affected by measurement

error and thus the correlates reported here are

underestimates of true relationships. Related to

unreliability in the measures, we found that many

studies did not report adequate measures of construct

validity for the measures that were employed. Similarly,

many studies used ad-hoc measures of retaliation.

No evidence was presented why certain

behaviors are considered to be retaliatory. This

illuminates the need to focus on construct validity

issues in future. It would also be profitable if standardized

measures are used for the main variables in

future research.

294 Jessica R. Mesmer-Magnus and Chockalingam Viswesvaran

Another issue concerns the potential for alternative

explanations for the differences reported

between studies examining whistleblowing intentions

and those exploring whistleblowing actions.

Specifically, an anonymous reviewer raised the

important point that since many studies on behavioral

intentions utilize scenario-based approaches,

something about this research methodology, other

than the fact that intentions rather than actions are

studied, may explain the differing results. This is always

a concern in content domains where substantially

similar research methodologies are consistently

employed (i.e., whistleblowing intentions research

relies heavily upon survey-based and scenario-based

approaches). It is possible that the use of the scenariobased

method may be acting as a moderator. This

concern may best be addressed with future research

relying on the triangulation of research methods.

A final important consideration relates to the

samples used by the authors of four of the studies

included in this meta-analysis. Specifically, four

samples were drawn from the 1980 U.S. Merit

System Protection Board Survey. While it is possible

that the samples overlapped to some extent, the

selection criteria, sample sizes, and measured variables

differed across the studies. As such, the potential

for bias due to non-independence to impact

our results is mitigated.


Whistleblowing on organizational wrongdoing has

become increasingly publicized in recent years. Such

whistleblowing has assisted organizations and federal

agencies in halting practices that would otherwise

harm employees and consumers. Given the potential

for positive outcomes to result from whistleblowing,

it is disheartening to learn that many whistleblowers

may fear and even suffer retaliation (e.g., Miceli and

Near, 1996). Much research has been conducted in an

effort to understand and enumerate the whistleblowing

process as well as to predict retaliation against

whistleblowers. We cumulated this literature using

meta-analytic methodology in an effort to ‘‘take

stock’’ of where we are in the field and to provide an

orientation for future research in whistleblowing.

Of greatest importance is the finding that research

conducted on whistleblowing intentions does not

easily translate into conclusions about whistleblowers.

Rather, to advance our understanding of this field, we

need to explore and enumerate the processes that

occur between the time wrongdoing is witnessed and

when actual whistleblowing occurs.


We wish to thank the Editor and two anonymous

reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions

on an earlier version of this manuscript.


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Department of Management & Marketing,

University of North Carolina at Wilmington,

601 South College Road,

Wilmington, NC 28403, U.S.A.

E-mail: magnusj@uncw.edu

Department of Psychology,

Florida International University,

University Park Campus,

11200 SW 8th Street,

Miami, FL 33199, U.S.A.

E-mail: vish@fiu.edu

Whistleblowing and Retaliation 297