Why Integrity is Important in the Workplace

Ethics and Integrity in the Workplace

In his book The Millionaire Mind, Thomas J. Stanley asked 733 millionaires to rank 30 factors which led to their success.  The number one attribute, “being honest with all people,” tells volumes about the importance of integrity in the workplace: it is more than living out good moral principles – it is also critical for succeeding in the business world.

Corporate Integrity: It Starts at the Top

I used to be affiliated with a construction company whose owner ordered the workers to cut corners in every way possible without getting caught.  Some foremen were even chastised for taking extra care to do a good job.  Did this philosophy work?  No.  The company did make money, but the employees who took pride in their work went elsewhere, leaving a workforce who simply was not trustworthy and a company which had a shady reputation.

When a new owner set a policy of always doing things right, the company slowly began to grow.  Those who continued to cut corners were dismissed and a new vitality began to emerge as the employees felt good about themselves; they began to love their jobs and became proud of who they worked for.  Guess what?  This company continues to flourish today.  Coincidence?  I think not.

Individual Integrity: We Are All Accountable

Writer and speaker Nicky Gumble punctuates this truth in the following story:

A man named Gibbo used to work as a clerk for Selfridges.  One day the phone rang and Gibbo answered.  The caller asked to speak to Gordon Selfridge, who happened to be in the room at the time.  When Mr. Selfridge instructed Gibbo to tell the caller that he was out, Gibbo handed him the phone and said, ‘You tell him you’re out!’  Gordon Selfridge was absolutely furious, but Gibbo said to him, ‘Look, if I can lie for you, I can lie to you.  And I never will.’  That moment transformed Gibbo’s career at Selfridges – he became the owner’s most trusted employee.

Integrity, for Gibbo, was so deeply ingrained that he disobeyed his boss without hesitation.  Yes, he might have been fired, but I am guessing that Gibbo wouldn’t have wanted to continue working there anyway.  In this case, however, his integrity was instrumental to his ascent at Selfridges.

Why Integrity Works

It is no surprise that employees with integrity shine.  They do not undermine their fellow workers, they work just as hard whether they are being watched or not, they can always be counted on to do their best, and they will be honest enough to admit it if they have made mistakes.  They won’t pass the blame, but they will share the credit.  They are an inspiration to others, creating a positive and upbeat work environment.

If you were in charge of hiring and networking, wouldn’t you dig beneath the surface of a potential employee’s resume to learn of their integrity?  Of course you would.  Therefore, if you are that employee, your services will be coveted, both when you are hired and for years thereafter.

How Are You Doing?

  • Do you leave work early when there is no possibility anyone else will find out?
  • Do you accept full responsibility (or your share) when things don’t go well?
  • Do you share the credit when things go right?
  • Do you confront wrongdoing, even if it means confronting a supervisor?
  • Do you hide legitimate income to avoid paying taxes on it (such as not reporting cash payments)?
  • Do you claim tax deductions you can’t document?

Another Test

Because we tend to be blind to our own shortcomings, I challenge you to ask a friend – one with integrity – to tell you honestly whether you are more like Gibbo or his boss.

The answer is critical to your future success.

How important is integrity in your workplace?  What can you do to make a difference?  Does your employer encourage and model integrity?  In what ways?  If you are a boss or supervisor, how well do you model integrity?  Leave a comment below!

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21 Comments
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  1. I used to believe in integrity and gave it up. The liars and spin doctors won all the time.

    As a normal course, I just assume everything is a lie unless there is documentation. Listen to the 2012 politicians give speeches where their beliefs change according to the audience. A President that can’t produce a birth certificate. A challenger that won’t disclose all income over the years. 3rd party civic groups that are supposed to bring about unbiased pensions reform. The letter head reads like the Who’s Who of corporate America. Goldman Sacks paid 550 million in fines for betting against their own investors. Mortgage brokers that invented assets for people so they could buy a house they could not afford. By calling investment insurance “derivatives” to avoid regulation that helped cause the crash. Husbands who say they were stuck in traffic to avoid a fight with the spouse because he was really at a bar trying to unwind. I’ve sat in graduate classe taking a test and another student that is a school board member is asking me for answers. Charter schools (according to TV’s “60 Minutes”) where teachers must kick back 40% of their pay. I have an honest contractor that does a great job. But he works only for cash and off the books. They call me cynical. I call myself realistic.

    By being the way I am, I’m not rich, but I live a very comfortable life and my wife has not worked in 35 years. On second thought, I am rich. I just don’t like yachts.

    • Although we disagree on the importance of integrity, I do agree with you that we shouldn’t automatically assume someone is telling the truth. I think trust should be earned. But I question your self assessment as realistic instead of cynical. It seems that “giving up on integrity because the spin doctors and liars won all of the time” is pretty cynical.

      Me? I don’t think 733 millionaires are wrong.

      • If integrity was honored, would it not be common place by now? Can we use integrity in the same sentence with lawyer, politician or car salesman?

        I have yet seen a new house under construction where green board is used in the shower stall. The difference in cost is a few dollars. The difference to the homeowner is a bath remodel in 10 years.

        Here the story about getting replacement windows for leaky windows? How does glass leak? After a while, you notice the drafts from under the molding because upon installation, the original windows were never insulated under the trim.

        I’ve done extensive remodeling to my home. I found batt insulation stuffed in the attic eaves to block air flow. The blown in insulation also blocked the eave vents (I trusted the experienced installer). The drain in my bathroom sink now drains well because the drain pipe now points down instead of up.

        I retired from teaching high school. A place where integrity is to be taught. I grew up with “Father Knows Best” and the cowboy with the white hat always won.

        Repeatedly I was told to pass students with 35 absences in one semester. I would check back and see failing grades were changed to passing grades. State tests often don’t have the correct answer after the question. I was told not to write the state and complain.

        State school tests are used as drawing paper and yet they are used to evaluate the school. The school blames the teachers for not teaching.

        The list is a lot longer than this. I don’t have a selective memory. I remember almost all of it. The good times too, as when my wife’s purse was returned. So, there are a few bright spots. But, the scale tips the wrong way.

        • Although I believe that integrity will help one’s business succeed, I don’t expect it to ever become the norm. Why? Because no one can actually practice integrity unless he has the character to do so. We are talking about an internal value, not a business strategy.

          My son, who remodels houses, recently discovered that a co-worker left paint runs on the exterior trim of a senior citizen’s house. Instead of ignoring those runs, he painstakingly scraped them and repainted them. I am not sure if his customer even knew, but the important thing is that my son knew. This specific example might not get him more work, but repeatedly taking care of details will. Besides, he sleeps good.

          • I used to have a side line business. I had full control of everything, so I practiced integrity. I always showed up on time and ran 15 minutes over the hour. I did well. Not rich, but well. Value was given for value received and life was good. I even did work the second generation.

            However, when I was involved with other people as bosses, that all changed dramatically. In the school business, no administrator was interested in anything that did not make him look good. Schools are in the people business, but they are really interested in self promotion. I hazard the guess that this is the norm rather than the exception. My district was paying for 3 superintendents at one time because they fired them before their contract was up. Another superintendent was escorted out by security. The head of security was escorted out by her own security. Another superintendent had criminal charges pressed against him for stealing money. A superintendent in another district had the police search his house and they found $750,000 of school money in his hamper. My district had not one but two clerks steal over $100,000 from the clubs. The list goes on and on. Remember, all schools try to hush this up as it reflects badly on all schools.

            I was church evolved. I never knew one priest that did not have a summer home and a servant to go ahead of him to prepare the property. I knew one that bought property on speculation of a new expressway coming through. The explanation was that he did not have money, but his family did. Google Binny Hinn and see his incredible wealth and he wants my $5. He needs a private jet or he would be worn out with his busy schedule. When does he have time to drive his 2 Hummers to on of his 5 mansions?

            In the area, we had the Bird’s Nest. She bred, raised, boarded, and sold parrots. Then she and her son lectured about illegal importation of birds because of disease and extinction. She and her son served time for doing that very thing.

            So, I practice integrity when I can. I watch out for everyone else from all walks of life.

            Integrity is a good thing, but by enlarge, it is not main stream.

    • Wow, this is very sad but very typical of how most people think.
      What you need to remember is that Everything eventually comes to Light (Becomes Exposed).
      If you’ve conducted your business and life with Integrity and Honesty you have nothing to worry about. There’s no better sleep aide than Innocence.

      • I agree with Joe and Pinksmack: integrity is not the norm because you do need the character to go with it, which means doing the right thing instead of being liked and looking good,
        Just because everyone behaves less than ethically, it doesn’t make it right, in fact it makes it easy and mediocre.

  2. Lol, man, the example about the construction company really hit home. That’s exactly the kind of work I do and that’s exactly how my company functions. I’ve gotten yelled at time and again for not cutting corners. I keep telling my bosses that these are peoples’ homes and that I can’t short-change them on something they’ll find out years down the road! This is their home!! I always do a good job, and actually, I usually finish early. Not becuase I’m cutting corners, but because I don’t sit around on the clock doing nothing, eating up time. I get yelled at for that too. Can’t charge a client the full amount if we don’t work the full time we estimated. It’s not great. But I keep being honest anyway because I want to do a good job for people. I haven’t been fired yet, only given raises. So … ?? I’d leave the company, but dudes in my business are a dime a dozen, and I can’t afford to leave without another job to fall in to!

    • TB — Don’t sell yourself short. Workers who don’t cut corners, take pride in their work and don’t sit around looking at the clock are not all that common. Even your boss who yells at you recognizes your value, or he wouldn’t be giving you raises. I agree that you shouldn’t leave the company without another job to fall into, but I have a hunch that some contractors who take pride in their work will be searching you out.

  3. Thanks for another solid post Joe. As Charlie Munger says (and I’m paraphrasing) The essence of integrity is being the same person in every component of your life.

    This means being the same with your friends, your loved ones and coworkers.

    I remember when I first started working. My first job was in an insurance company. I was hot to trot and ready to deliver. Because of my ambition I was more cold and stern at work than I was in my personal life. I took almost everything too seriously. I’m sure I wasn’t that much fun to be around ;)

    Here’s the challenge – not being the same person in every part of your life is actually exhausting. You spend so much time keeping up your facade and ‘performing’.

    It’s better to just go with who you are. I’m sure people like that a lot more than you think!

    • JP — Great point about being the same person all of the time. I used to call it the chameleon syndrome when I would “change colors” depending on who I was around. However, once I learned who I was in Jesus Christ, I no longer had an identity issue. I can now relax and not worry about what anyone thinks or who I might or might not be impressing.

      • I like it! I think one of the largest challenges is that our society/the business industry rewards you for being a chameleon. Weakness and vulnerability are not valued in social settings.

  4. Integrity is something I’ve been thinking about a lot. Over the next five years or so my plan is to build a proprietary trading firm. Unfortunately prop firms don’t have the best reputations in terms of honesty and fair dealing. I know it’s a problem that I’m going to need to address “from the top” and the question is how to most effectively do that.

    • W — the very fact that you have been thinking a lot about integrity and how to implement it from the top tells me that you HAVE integrity. I think the most effective way any leader can communicate integrity is in the little things; taking care of details (which could easily be compromised) in an honorable way speaks volumes. In a way, having employees is like raising children — they don’t miss a thing!

  5. What an incredibly important topic. This brings to mind Luke 16:10- Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much”.

    I have been in situations on all sides of the spectrum, both personally acting with or without integrity, and working for those with and without integrity. I feel that this is also very much a leadership matter. When you have an authority figure who acts with integrity, those who “follow” that person will also wish to act with integrity.

    In the workplace I find that there tends to be an “honesty bar” that is set by the managerial staff and the powers that be. I have at time found that bar to be much too low for my conscience and have chosen to leave positions based on this. Now that I have the responsibility to set that bar, it is of the upmost importance and I believe that to be the reason that we are able to continue to offer our services (and grow!) in an industry where so many companies are going out of business due to a low “honesty bar”.

    I have been told that integrity is doing the right thing, even when nobody is looking. I think that was well portrayed in the questions listed in the article and I believe that is a great way to gauge the life that we are living.

    • Josh — Congrats on being in a position to set that “honesty bar”. Congrats also that your business continues to grow when competitors with a lower honesty bar are failing. I agree that there is an undeniable link between the honesty bar and the growth of the business.

      I, like you, have worked in positions where authority figures were all over the place in respect to their integrity. Over and over again, I have seen those who choose the high road succeed, both personally within the organization, and corporately as an organization. Conversely, I have seen those who don’t “do the right thing when nobody is looking” fail. They may be able to hide their lack of scruples for a while, but eventually what is on the inside will work its way to the outside.

  6. Jason Rider

    Good article. I quit my previous job because of the owner’s dishonesty in general. They were involved in a number of kickback schemes and other forms of fraud. Unfortunately, the owner has done well and lives in a 2M house and owns a number of properties. But he hasn’t been able to grow the business beyond a very small company, and burns bridges left and right, so I guess what comes around goes around. He’s also been on the losing end of a number of lawsuits.

    Another example just recently happened to me. Ordered online from a local department store to pick-up in store. Never got the pick-up notice, turns out my order might have been stolen by someone in the receiving department. Corporate HQ is investigating.

    • Jason — Hopefully, you had another job lined up when you left the scoundrel employer, but even if you didn’t, I believe God will honor your decision to quit your job. I am sure, if you fast forward ahead a year or five years or twenty years, you wouldn’t be able to see yourself staying with him, so leaving now is simply not prolonging the inevitable.

  7. Thanks for the article. Especially now, when dishonesty and corruption seems to pervade so many of our institutions. A reminder of basic, decent values is important.

  8. I don’t work for anyone but I do work with others in partnerships and I found that every time I said I was going to do something and didn’t do it, I was behaving in a way that lacked integrity and it cost me my credibility. A few months ago I decided to call the people I worked with and own my lack of integrity and ask them to hold me accountable and call me out every time I didn’t live by my word. It took me a while to understand that living with integrity actually makes you stand out because it increases the chances of people trusting you. Being trustworthy is what makes entrepreneurs succeed because people believe in what you have to say. Integrity is a personal thing and isn’t dependent on others, just because others are not honest, it doesn’t mean we can’t be honest in return. After all integrity is the ability to stand by your word even when everyone else is behaving differently.

  9. I strongly believe in personal integrity. People are astonished when I hand back an over payment or return a lost wallet. That’s a shame when doing so used to not make a wave in the cosmos, now it’s a major event to be honest. Honestly sad.

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