Integrity at Work
Updated: May 19
Integrity is inextricably linked to trust and trust is the foundation that undergirds the activities of a functional, well adjusted team. When trust is lost, employees and members become suspicious and paranoid about each other. When trust is present, employees are open, participative and willing to try new things and risk making a mistake.
Studies by the Centre for Creative Leadership have shown that most employees will claim to be operating at high levels of integrity if asked. Unfortunately, their claims were found to be untrue when the interviewers dug beneath the surface. In fact, they found that many of us deviate from our personal core values when it is convenient.
The lack of integrity can rear its head in various ways at work:
Surfing the internet (unreasonably) for personal reasons during office hours
Engaging in long counseling sessions on the phone or in the restroom
Using photocopiers for personal copies.
Blaming others and making excuses
Saying you will do something with no intention of delivering on your commitment.
Half-truths and lies
Leaders and employees who act outside the boundaries of integrity sometimes build an elaborate belief system designed to justify their behaviours. Most employees want to see themselves as honest, so they explain away their lack of integrity citing reasons that sometimes sound like entitlement. For example, “They don’t pay me enough for this job”. Another way employees justify their lack of integrity is when persons caught taking things that don’t belong to them say that they are only borrowing the items or money and they intend to pay the company back. The missing link here is that they weren’t given permission to borrow.
Leaders who lack integrity, don’t stand up for what they feel is right, they don’t walk their talk and they hide important information from employees. Leaders with integrity are fair, accountable and responsible and their actions are aligned with their values. They build their teams based on trust, transparence and collaboration.
How you can build integrity at work
Integrity is about grit and standing up for what you believe whether or not you are under pressure. For instance, there are employees who change their position because the boss has a different opinion. While this may be viewed as a coping skill, does it demonstrate integrity?
An important factor to consider when attempting to build integrity is that studies by the Center for Creative Leadership revealed that training on the topic of integrity will not bring about meaningful change. They found that integrity is not learned in the classroom, it is learned by example.
Building integrity is closely related to building trust and trust building requires a great deal of consistency and focused effort for creation and maintenance. The first step is to walk the values you talk. Consistent, authentic behaviours that are aligned with the values of your company are optimal. If your personal values are not aligned with your company’s values, then consider that you may not be working for the right company.
If you are a manager or supervisor, allow members of your team to have a voice. Remember, although they may say some things that don’t resonate with you, treat them with respect. When going through your trust building process, your priority is healing, not retribution or blame.
Sometimes the lack of trust is obvious and at other times it is latent and needs to be exposed. When a lack of trust is not immediately evident, a façade of harmony can exist where everyone is in verbal agreement but not acting in congruence with what is being said. To understand what is not being said, create a “safe place” for employees to express their concerns without fear of victimization.
We tend to look at everyone else as the culprit but the next step is to take a look at yourself and try to determine how you are contributing to your current reality. Ask yourself whether or not your behaviours are part of the solution and if not, think about what you can do to modify your behaviours. If this is a blind spot for you, seek feedback from a trusted source.
There are times when I hear managers complaining about their employees being lazy or not sufficiently productive. Once I take a closer look at the situation, many times the employees are capable but unproductive because their managers are displaying trust compromising behaviours like being disrespectful, vindictive or ineffective.
As a leader seeking to build integrity and trust within your team, try to avoid:
Rude, disrespectful behaviour.
Cold, aloof behaviour that creates an air of inapproachability.
Betrayal of your employees’ or colleagues’ trust.
Observable skill deficiencies.
Vindictive behaviour that can be construed as victimization.
Authenticity is important in establishing trust. There is the school of thought that you can “fake it” and pretend to support your company’s values. If you want to develop trust, “faking it” is not an option because fakery comes across as insincere and shallow and in most cases your team members can see through your act or they sense something incongruent they don’t trust.
Keep in mind that integrity can mean different things to different people. For instance, there are persons whose value system dictates that you have to do what you have to do to get to the top. This is certainly another value system that exists in the workplace so be aware that there are value systems that may be very different than yours. However, keep in mind that although a person may be aligned with their personal value system their value system may lack integrity.
Why should you build integrity and trust at work? Studies by the Center for Creative Leadership show that integrity and positive work relationships are closely linked. To go to the next obvious level, functional and positive work relationships can lead to greater job satisfaction, productivity and cohesive, higher performing teams in tough and good economic times.
With knowledge gained from over 30 years of Fortune 500 and international consulting experience, Yvette shares her rich experience and proprietary model for changing businesses from the inside out. She is a thought leader in the areas of trust, leadership and organizational ecosystems, an award winning author and cultural consultant.
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