Integrity is one of those buzzword values that appears in every job description, mission statement, and project outline. So, what does it mean in the context of the workplace? And how do you foster it in everyday actions?
What is integrity in the workplace?
Integrity is one of the core values that employers look for in potential employees. It’s also a core value to the operation of businesses. To act with integrity is to ensure that every decision made is based on thoroughly ethical and moral principles. Trust, honour, and honesty are key elements to the concept of integrity. In the workplace, employees that act with integrity will always tell the truth, are accountable and reliable, and treat coworkers, stakeholders and customers with respect. They will do the right thing, even when no one is watching.
Here are a few scenarios that demonstrate integrity in the workplace:
- The manager of an organisation regularly updates his team of the financial struggles they’re experiencing. The manager discloses clear and detailed communication at team meetings regarding the struggles, and the recovery plan. As a result, employees feel that they know what is going on, and are not caught off guard when the manager requests a small pay cut across the board to avoid layoffs.
- Two employees are talking about another employee’s inability to complete tasks. They criticise this other employee’s work ethic and knowledge. Another employee overhears this conversation, and interrupts. He asks if they have informed their colleague that they feel this way. He explains that it is very possible he is unaware of his failings, or that there are reasons they are unaware of. He explains that it would be far fairer, and more effective, to discuss these issues with their colleague – not behind his back. They all discuss the issues with the underperforming employee, and come up with strategies for him to improve.
- The payroll team of an organisation identifies that certain staff haven’t been paid correctly according to Modern Awards. After an investigation, they approach their finance and HR leaders and decide to procure a software package that ensures their rostering, timesheets and payroll comply with current laws. A notice and apology is sent out to all affected employees with an explanation of the issue and the action plan for it’s resolution.
In both these scenarios, honesty and trust underpin the correct resolution. The staff in the first scenario wouldn’t have understood the pay cut, or the second scenario’s employee his failings, if their colleagues were not honest and respectful.
Why is it important?
In the workplace, integrity is one of the key foundations for ethical behaviour and accountability. It is one of the basic essentials for business in general – no one wants to involve themselves with a business that cheats and deceits its customers, and employees have no desire to work for CEOs that are insincere and fraudulent. Hence, integrity is somewhat of a given for businesses. Workplaces that are built on integrity thrive – their employees are dedicated, their customers are satisfied, and their profit margins are solid.
How can you encourage integrity in your workplace?
Despite being an absolute essential element of good business, integrity is difficult to foster. The Harvard Business Review explains that there exists two primary hurdles to integrity. First is the innately human ability to rationalise behaviour. Despite our knowledge that we should always do the ‘right thing’, humans have an inbuilt ability to justify their behaviour when they do they ‘wrong thing’. For example, research found that although the majority of high school students define cheating as ‘wrong’, 95% of them have cheated in one way or another. However, they justified this cheating as ‘no big deal’, or ‘not really cheating’. The second roadblock to integrity is the non-fixed definition of what it means. Not everyone envisions integrity the same. So, how do you overcome these roadblocks to ensure integrity underpins processes in your workplace? Here are a few tips.
- Clearly outline what integrity means in your workplace. Let your team know exactly what you expect from them in terms of honesty and transparency. You can create a series of ethical standards for your employees. Relying on rules alone will not be enough, however it is a great starting point.
- Encourage an open and transparent environment where team members feel they can freely discuss issues without punishment. It can be beneficial to set aside some time to directly discuss integrity in the context of your specific workplace. In a team meeting, you could outline some scenarios, and ask your team to come up with solutions. This forces considered deliberation of how to act with integrity, and will encourage employees to pursue this line of thinking in their everyday actions.
- Set regular integrity self-assessments. In these assessments, employees will have to provide feedback on how they view their actions in the past few weeks or months. It might not be necessary to collect these assessments – they are used as tools for self-reflection, forcing employees to reflect on, and consider the way in which they conduct themselves at work.
- Leading by example is key. You should practice every action that you preach. Always be honest with your employees, and step in when you see the potential for dishonest behaviour.
- Take action when a staff member acts in contravention to your outline of integrity. Conversely, reward those who consistently comply and act with high levels of integrity.
- Compliance with current laws, including Modern Awards is crucial to running a business with integrity. Communicating with and education staff, and strictly adhering to laws using compliant software ensures this is achievable.
It is essential that integrity underpins processes in every workplace. But that doesn’t mean that it’s easy. Following these steps will get the conversation started, and help to encourage integrity in the workplace.
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