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Integrity in the Workplace: Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say

Integrity is an essential ingredient in being an ethical person. Personal integrity is an innate moral conviction to stand against things that are not virtuous or morally right. To have integrity is to do what you think is right regardless of the consequences attached with your decisions. Persons with high integrity are usually described as trustworthy, reliable, and accountable for one’s actions. In Aristotelian ethics, “There is at least one virtue recognized by tradition which cannot be specified except with reference to the wholeness of human life – the virtue of integrity or constancy.”

Integrity is one of the fundamental values employers seek in the employees that they hire. Integrity is the foundation of a person who demonstrates sound moral and ethical principles at work. Honesty is an essential part of integrity. It means to tell the truth as you know it and don’t hold back even when your words and actions my harm another.

Just imagine your boss says there has been a theft of petty cash funds and asks if you know who did it? You are aware of the act but aren’t certain of the guilty party so you answer by saying: You haven’t heard who might have stolen money from petty cash. Is this an honest response? You did not tell a lie (by commission) because you do not know the culprit’s identity. However, you haven’t been completely truthful because you did not disclose that you know of the act. This is a lie by omission.

Integrity in the workplace is a building block of ethical behavior. Employees can’t be trusted when they don’t tell the entire truth. Consider the following example. A co-worker confides in you that she made a mistake in budgeting sales revenue for the upcoming year. The mistake led to hiring ten additional employees to speed up production. She asks for your advice. Will you tell her to disclose the error right away or wait and see if the actual sales level is less than budgeted?

Let’s assume you told the co-worker to wait and see what happens; she can always admit the mistake down the line. Why cause a problem where no problem exists? It turns out the budget was wrong. Your friend is asked by her boss about it. She’s unsure what to say so confides that she went to you, a more experienced employee, for advice and was told to wait and see. Now you’re part of a cover-up. Your reputation for honesty and trustworthiness is at stake.

The following are essential elements for managers to foster integrity in the workplace:

  • Define integrity in your workplace and in relationships with stakeholders.

  • Create a culture of openness and transparency.

  • Establish a set of ethical standards that promote honesty and full disclosure.

  • Lead by example: Model integrity by “walking the talk” and demonstrating integrity at every turn.

  • Take appropriate action against workers who violate the integrity standard.

  • Reward employees who have demonstrated integrity in their decisions and behaviors.

Confidentiality is a prime example of integrity in the workplace. It is also critical from a legal perspective. Employers have an obligation to keep certain information private. Violation of privacy standards could lead to employment action. Confidentiality instills trust and encourages sincere consideration of the privacy of others.

Integrity can be summed up in the expression: Say what you mean and mean what you say. Like so many aspects of being an ethical person, it can be easier said than done.

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© 2016 by Steven Mintz and  Do Good PR Group