Psychological and Hierarchical Closeness as Opposing Factors in Whistleblowing: A Meta‐Analysis

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Although employees are an important means of detecting and preventing misconducts through whistleblowing, many witnesses choose to remain silent. One reason to remain silent is the discomfort of reporting a colleague. Intuitively, employees should be less likely to report a close or trusted colleague, but a previous review suggests that the opposite may actually be true. However, later studies have shown mixed effects of social closeness on whistleblowing. To gain a better understanding of how social closeness affects whistleblowing, we meta-analyzed 22 experimental studies on intentions to blow the whistle. Overall, the studies show no effect of social closeness on whistleblowing intentions, d = − 0.21, p =.05. However, when separating the studies by type of closeness, we find that psychological closeness has a negative effect, d = − 0.46, p <.001, while hierarchical closeness has a positive effect, d =.34, p <.001 on whistleblowing intentions. This means that employees are most likely to report misconduct if the perpetrator is at the same hierarchical level in the organization and not a close or trusted friend. Since close psychological bonds are more likely to develop between employees at the same hierarchical level, the two types of closeness may counteract each other. This dilemma could be part of the explanation why so many witnesses choose to remain silent.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Business and Psychology
Pages (from-to)369-383
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023


  • Closeness
  • Meta-analysis
  • Whistleblowing


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