What is Integrity, and Why Does it Matter?

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Many organizations use the word ‘integrity’ in their list of company values. But what does it actually mean? And how can HR detect a lack of integrity in workers? Lars Pedersen, CEO of Questionmark, explains.

What is integrity? While it’s a common component of companies’ mission statements, it can be hard to pin down precisely what integrity means to employees in their everyday routine. For some industries, there are established codes which give some insight into what ‘integrity’ might mean in daily business. For instance, FINRA Rule 2010 requires that workers in the financial sector “observe high standards of commercial honor”. Similarly, the UK General Medical Council requires doctors to “always be honest about [their] experience, qualifications, and current role.” From these, we can surmise that integrity is about choosing the honest, moral choice whenever possible.

Measuring ‘integrity’
How do you find a maladroit employee before they do serious damage to the business or its reputation? Cheating on an exam is a good benchmark of a lack of integrity. In the accounting world, both the AICPA and the CIMA include ‘integrity’ in their code of conduct and ban or sanction members who are caught cheating on tests. Many industries even have compliance exams to ensure that all employees are aware of the latest regulations and cheating on these can land the company with a stiff fine.

Cheating is taken as a sign of a lack of integrity, and treated so seriously, because a person who is willing to cut corners on a test may be willing to ignore other rules. This is unacceptable, in the finance industry where they are working with someone else’s money, and other industries, where it can potentially have fatal consequences. In a more positive light, a company with a culture of integrity is better for employees to work, likely makes better products, and is probably more secure in the long term.

Learn more: Why Businesses Need Ethics to Survive Disruption

Justification and rationalization
The question of ‘why good people choose to do bad things’ is one to leave to the philosophers, but needless to say, the real world isn’t a purely black and white, moral and immoral place. There are plenty of complexities, and people have an incredible ability for justifying and rationalizing morally gray behavior to themselves. ‘I know I shouldn’t take this shortcut, but it’s been a long day,’ or ‘I know I shouldn’t cheat on this test, but I already know the information and I’m really busy.’

However, in addition to stating their code of ethics, a company’s actions also dictate how its employees should behave. For example. An unmonitored, self-marked test can tempt even the most upstanding people to cut corners, perhaps in the belief that taking the test is simply a formality. However, a well-secured test makes it clear to employees that cheating is unacceptable. Employees who persist in trying to cheat on a serious test are demonstrating a genuine shortfall of integrity.

Challenging the cheaters
There are some concrete measures that a company can take when it comes to making their testing more secure. Supervision or proctoring, whether in the room or over the internet, dramatically reduces cheating, for example. So, does using a secure cloud platform and locked down web browser. However, if the problem is systemic, a company might need to root out the causes of a lack of integrity. Do employees feel undervalued? Are they unclear on the ethical requirements of their work? What is compelling them to act in a way that is unbecoming of their roles?

Companies can proactively make their definition of integrity clear to their employees in several ways. To start, a company should establish a clear code of conduct which is respected and regularly revisited. Organizations should encourage honest reflection as an alternative to breaking the rules or taking shortcuts. If an employee is having a hard time and can’t complete their workload, or hasn’t had time to study for a test, the company is better served by supporting them than taking a hard line. These sorts of initiatives to create an open, supportive workplace obviate the need for a lot of bad behavior and can go a long way to ensuring that employees always conduct themselves with integrity.

Ultimately, when it comes to business integrity, it’s all about creating a workplace that encourages integrity rather than trying to force employees to behave well. By merely creating hurdles to make bad behavior more difficult, and off-ramps for people who might be tempted, businesses can make it easier for employees to choose to behave with integrity. Companies should work to build an engaged, trusted workforce that has integrity and doesn’t feel the need to, for example, cheat in workplace exams.

Source : https://www.hrtechnologist.com/articles/culture/what-is-integrity-and-why-does-it-matter/

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