What Is Integrity and Why Is It Important in your Professional Life?
In modern society, it is common to hear stories of cut-throat workplaces. Movies like The Wolf of Wall Street expose a world of business where ruthless individuals are willing to step on their co-workers and clients alike to get what they want. The perception that nice guys finish last is rife.
In addition, since the economic downturn, workers have faced cuts to benefits, pensions and salaries, not to mention countless layoffs. Employees often feel they are simply cogs in the wheel of faceless corporations that don’t care about them.
These beliefs and experiences can breed disloyalty and disintegration among workers and lead to a lack of integrity in the workplace. Employees may react against what they view as unfair treatment, aiming to get one over on ‘the man’. This behaviour takes many forms such as adding personal expenditures to company expense accounts or taking unnecessary sick days.
It’s easy for some to forget that these actions not only damage their own personal and professional reputation but also harm their co-workers. Furthermore, a lack of integrity among employees is likely to lead to more constrictive policies in workplaces in the long term.
What is integrity in the workplace?
Integrity is remaining true to your own beliefs and moral standards of conduct despite adversity. It is doing the right thing even when no-one is looking over your shoulder. People with integrity are willing to stand up for their values and speak out against unethical behaviour. They exert the qualities of honesty, loyalty and dependability.
Opportunities to demonstrate integrity in the workplace may arise in both subtle and obvious ways. Consider how you might react in the following situations:
- As you finish your task, you notice that photocopier has run out of paper or the communal printer is low on ink. Do you walk away and ignore the issue leaving it for the next unsuspecting user to deal with or do you take steps to rectify the situation?
- You overhear a supervisor making disparaging comments towards a co-worker in relation to his or her sexual orientation. Are you likely to ignore the situation, putting it down to a misguided sense of humour? Or, do you report the incident to the management and recommend that they make clear their company policy on workplace bullying, discrimination and harassment?
- You are face-to-face with a customer who wants to purchase an affordable product that performs certain basic functions. If you sell a higher-end product you know you will achieve a bigger bonus, but you’re aware that the additional features will not benefit this particular client. Do you push the sale that will most benefit yourself and your company, or your client?
- You have an important business meeting tomorrow, but you haven’t finished your presentation. A co-worker offers to help you prepare the statistical charts on PowerPoint. Afterwards, your boss commends you on the clarity and impact of the data presented. Do you claim full credit for the work or acknowledge your co-worker’s contribution?
Examples like these crop up daily in workplaces. Do you feel your response to these situations would demonstrate sound moral principles?
How to develop a personal code of integrity
In order to know how to approach difficult situations with integrity, it is important to become clear on your own values and belief systems.
One approach to this is to become more self-aware. Humans have an innate sense of right and wrong. If a behaviour goes against your personal value system you may experience a physical reaction such as a feeling of guilt or unease. In addition, if you notice yourself looking for ways to justify an action or behaviour that makes you uncomfortable, this could be a sign that you are not being true to your own ethical code. Look to others around you who demonstrate a clear sense of integrity for inspiration.
Another approach might be to clarify your principles in writing. In the book ‘The Habits of Highly Effective People’, Stephen Covey recommends that we develop a personal mission statement to clarify and express our own personal values through process of introspection and reflection. Having such a manifesto can offer direction when you find yourself faced with difficult decisions that test your integrity.
Taking a principled and ethical approach to decisions related to your work and workplace dynamics can have a positive impact on your life and that of your co-workers. It can also lead to a greater sense of self-respect and self-esteem. To top it off, it can help advance your career. So, when faced with a moral dilemma in the workplace, large or small, listen to your inner angel – and have the courage and fortitude to do what is right.