Artwork by: Antonina Kasyanikova
When you have integrity, you actively try to make good decisions and treat others with respect. Integrity in the workplace is vital for success, as it helps you attain the respect and confidence of coworkers. In this article, we’ll discuss the importance of integrity in the workplace and what it looks like.
There are myriad meanings to “integrity.” The word can be applied to objects when it refers to the wholeness or purity of a thing, such as an untouched wilderness or a computer database that is uncorrupted by viruses or errors. When the concept is being used to describe human behavior, however, it becomes a little more complicated. Philosophers have spent much time reflecting on what it means for a person to exhibit integrity throughout his or her life. Put simply, integrity is “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles that you refuse to change.“ Workplace integrity is more than something you “do” (like not stealing office pens); it’s a way of behaving that affects all aspects of your career, and even your personal life.
In this article, we’ll discuss the importance of integrity in the workplace, including:
What is professional integrity in the workplace?
Characteristics of integrity
Why integrity is important in leadership
3 Examples of integrity in the workplace
Integrity is easy to spot in the workplace. When an employee has integrity, it means that they demonstrate good judgment and take responsibility for their actions. The writer C.S. Lewis defined integrity as “…doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” A company that fosters a culture of integrity ensures that its employees take their roles seriously, are proactive in their responsibilities, and are accountable for the results of their work. When this happens, both the company and its employees thrive.
According to the Global Business Ethics Survey (GBES), in 2020, about one in five U.S. employees were in workplaces with a “strong ethical culture” compared with one in 10 in 2000.
Sometimes it seems like integrity seems like an outdated concept, especially in an environment that seems cutthroat or reaches for “success at all costs.” But it still exists, and it doesn’t mean being a doormat. It is a positive attribute that should be encouraged in yourself and those around you. But what does it look like in practice? Is it merely a way of living by the "Golden Rule" and treating others the way you would want to be treated? Yes, in part. But there's more to it than that. Let's take a look at the concepts associated with integrity.
A person with integrity demonstrates:
Gratitude for others
Placing importance on honesty and transparency
Taking responsibility for your actions, whether they be positive or negative
Showing respect for yourself and others
Aiding those around you without sacrificing your own well-being
Reliability and trustworthiness
Flexibility and patience even in the face of challenges
No matter your job level or the industry you work in, having a commitment to integrity will make a big difference in your workplace. Demonstrating integrity will let management know that you can handle your job responsibilities effectively and professionally (which can help you advance in your career) but it also has a positive effect on the overall environment.
So what can you do to demonstrate your commitment to integrity in the workplace? First, define your core values and stand by them. This will help you make the right choices, even if you think no one is watching. Also remember to follow up on your promises and take ownership of your actions. It’s okay to make a mistake; just be sure to admit it and take steps to rectify it.
In addition, work on developing your self esteem and your confidence, so you are sure to do the right thing when the time comes. Along the same lines, work on being assertive, so that you can stand up for your ethics without finger-pointing or complaining. When acting with integrity, don’t be conceited or arrogant about it, and don’t seek approval from others.
Management in the workplace sets the example. There’s an old saying, “The fish rots from the head down.” While not a pleasant metaphor, it is apt. When a company or business fails, leadership is usually the root cause. Business leaders who demonstrate integrity know that everything they do shapes the company's morale, culture, and values. They act for the good of the whole, not merely for themselves.
Demonstrating integrity at the management level also helps cultivate a transparent and positive environment where employees can do their best work because they know that the company they work for runs on strong values. Integrity in the workplace also promotes diversity, inclusion, and equity. These employees are therefore able to freely share ideas, develop strong professional relationships, and be the best version of themselves. This supports positive morale, increased productivity, and a sense of purpose.
So what does integrity in the workplace look like in a real-world setting? Here are some common scenarios that you might encounter that require demonstrating integrity:
While working on a trade show exhibit for her IT company, Susan realizes that some of the informational materials will not arrive on time because she gave the printer an incorrect date. Similar issues have happened before, so Susan could place the blame on the vendor and no one would be the wiser. But Susan takes responsibility for her mistake, contacts the vendor, and sets up a rush delivery which still will get there late, but in time for the trade show. She meets with her supervisor to tell her about the error and apologizes. Susan offers some ways she can avoid making this mistake in the future, and her supervisor conveys her appreciation and confirms her trust in Susan’s work.
John gets an early morning call from his son’s school, reminding him of a parent-teacher meeting they scheduled. Realizing that he forgot to tell his manager, he calls her to let her know the situation and that he will be there as soon as he can. They're in the middle of an important project, and he doesn't want to leave his teammates in the lurch. As soon as the meeting is over, he goes straight to work, arriving 40 minutes late. However, he stays 40 minutes late to get his portion of the work finished, and his co-workers express gratitude for his efforts to get everything finished without neglecting his personal responsibilities.
Madison works as a sales associate for an interior design firm, and she’s been working closely with a new, important client. She negotiates with their outside vendors to get the best prices for the client on fabrics, furniture, and accessories, resulting in the overall costs being much lower than the client was originally quoted. To express her gratitude, the client offers two tickets to a much-anticipated concert as well as backstage passes. It would be easy for Madison to take the tickets and not tell anyone about them, but her firm has a strict "no gifts” policy. She graciously declines the concert tickets, expressing her satisfaction in providing the client with top-notch service. She also gives her boss the heads-up about the gift, although she expects no praise for following the company’s guidelines.
Integrity is an important core value because it means that you live your life in a way that aligns with your deepest-held values. In the workplace, integrity is critical for cultivating a positive environment, encouraging ethical decision-making, and supporting employees to be accountable for their actions. Modeling integrity in the workplace allows employees to achieve the respect and trust of their colleagues as managers, which can support their career advancement as well as their overall success. When you act with integrity, you may not always experience instant gratification, but in the long run, it’s a “win-win" for everyone involved.
Looking to accelerate your career? Check out our Career Pathways tool to get your career on the right path.
Integrity in the workplace means that an employee demonstrates good judgment and takes responsibility for his or her actions.
Integrity isn’t just something you “do,” it’s a quality that you put into practice every day and in all aspects of your life.
Demonstrating integrity at the management level helps cultivate a transparent and positive environment where employees can do their best work.
Integrity in the workplace promotes diversity, inclusion, and equity and ensures all employees feel valued and heard.
Jennifer Inglis is a freelance writer and content creator with extensive professional expertise in advertising, media analysis, teaching, writing, and literature. Prior to working for Career.io, Jennifer was a public school teacher, teaching courses in college and career readiness, writing, and public speaking. Jennifer has a master’s degree in Teaching, and is the author of two published novels.