The importance of integrity in the workplace (with examples)

June 2, 2021 - 18 min read

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What is integrity?

What does it mean to have integrity at work?

Key examples of integrity in the workplace

Why is it important to have integrity in the workplace?

Demonstrating integrity at work

Prioritizing integrity in the workplace

I once had a manager that lived by a strong moral code. She was strict but fair. Her greatest strength was making everyone around her feel seen and heard. One of her core values as a leader was the importance of integrity in the workplace, and it showed.

From fostering an open and positive work environment to promoting strong and resilient teams, integrity in the workplace is important for both employers and employees.

Let’s review what integrity means, how to show it, and why integrity in the workplace matters.

What is integrity?

Before we go any further, let's clear up what integrity means.

Integrity as a concept

Integrity means being honest and having strong moral principles. A person with integrity behaves ethically and does the right thing, even behind closed doors. 

For instance, informing a cashier that they gave you too much change and going back to the store to pay for something you forgot to pay for are two examples of showing integrity in everyday circumstances. 

Examples of traits associated with integrity

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Beyond having strong ethical standards, having integrity means you:

  • Expressing gratitude for others
  • Valuing honesty and openness 
  • Taking responsibility and accountability for your actions, good and bad
  • Respecting yourself and others around you no matter where you are
  • Demonstrating reliability and trustworthiness 
  • Showing patience and flexibility, even when unexpected obstacles show up
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What does it mean to have integrity at work?

Integrity in the workplace is the same as it is outside of work. The only difference is that integrity at work supports a company and leader's set of moral and ethical standards. This will result both in happier employers and employees. 

What is integrity in the workplace? 

Workplace integrity is vital to decision-making, serving customers, and managing employees. It’s also crucial to reducing costly errors, avoiding illegal activity, and keeping the organization’s core values top of mind.

For instance, reviewing policies and procedures before starting a complex task or being honest about forgetting to do an important task are two examples of showing integrity at work.

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Having integrity at work means you: 

  1. Are reliable and dependable (i.e., you show up to work on time)
  2. Are trustworthy, especially with classified information and high-risk tasks
  3. Practice and encourage open communication with your colleagues and managers
  4. Are respectful, honest, and patient with your colleagues, managers, and customers
  5. Have a strong work ethic and strive to produce high-quality work consistently 
  6. Are responsible for your actions, especially when you make a mistake
  7. Make sound decisions, even under high-stress situations 
  8. Are equipped to provide high-quality service to your customers

Organizations with integrity keep high-value customers, reduce employee turnover, improve productivity, and make smart decisions.

Key examples of integrity in the workplace

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Here are three real-life examples of integrity at work:

Example 1: being honest when faced with a difficult challenge 

Kate, a kindergarten teacher, has been struggling to help two of her students get along. The two students often push and hit each other, call each other names, and sometimes even get the rest of the class involved. 

Because of this conflict, the two students can’t concentrate on assignments and are struggling to turn in work on time. Sometimes the conflict also prevents the rest of the class from staying focused on their work. 

After trying to solve the problem on her own, Kate reaches out to the school principal. The principal values her honesty. After discussing the problem with the two students, they ask the school counselor to mediate the situation.

Afterward, they give the students the chance to rejoin the class, with the expectation to show improved behavior.

Thanks to Kate’s honesty about facing a difficult challenge:

  • The two students were able to resolve the conflict without switching classes. 
  • Kate’s class regained focus and began turning in assignments on time.
  • Kate earned more trust from her principal.

Example 2: owning up to mistakes

Jared, a banker and loan officer, has just accepted a new position as a home equity loan officer at a nearby bank. During his first month of employment, he mentors under another loan officer and takes notes to understand his responsibilities.

During the second month of employment, he meets with his manager and his mentor about managing a new loan application. 

Under the impression that they would be working on this loan as a team, Jared collects the customer’s loan application, stores it in the online directory for his manager and mentor to finish, and then moves on to other tasks.

Two weeks later, he comes across the same loan application and realizes no one ever sent the application to the underwriter for approval. It turns out it wasn’t meant to be a team effort — Jared was responsible for the loan application all along.

Embarrassed by his mistake, Jared turns to his manager to explain the situation. Although his manager isn’t happy that the loan application was never processed, he appreciates Jared's transparency. 

Thanks to Jared owning up to his mistake:

  • The manager was able to help Jared speed up the loan process. 
  • Jared understood that he was officially responsible for his customers’ loan applications on his own.
  • Jared’s manager valued his transparency and taking responsibility for his mistake. 

Example 3: doing the right thing, even when nobody's watching 

Mary, a digital marketer, is in the middle of a huge project with her team. They’re in charge of planning 90 days worth of digital content for a new client by Thursday morning. 

On Monday and Tuesday, Mary and the other team members work hard on the project. However, by Wednesday, morale is low, and her teammates start to move slower and slower. 

When the marketing manager announces she’ll be leaving for the rest of the day to attend a funeral, the team breathes a sigh of relief. Then, they stop working on the project altogether. 

While her teammates waste time, Mary continues with her work, even though her manager is gone. 

Not wanting to disturb her manager during a funeral, Mary politely tries to encourage her team to get back to work. While most of the team members don’t listen, a few of them decide to pitch in to help her finish the project. 

By the end of Wednesday, Mary and a few teammates finished the project without help from the rest of the team. On Thursday, Mary met with her manager to explain what happened and turn in the final project. 

Thanks to Mary doing the right thing:

  • The project was turned in on time. 
  • Her manager set up accountability checkpoints for the team.
  • Her manager promoted her to team supervisor.

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Why is it important to have integrity in the workplace?

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Integrity is important in the workplace because it:

1. Promotes better leaders

Companies that hold their managers up to high ethical standards promote strong and ethical leaders. 

Leaders with integrity understand that their actions, words, and decisions shape the company’s values, culture, and morale. They value their customers, become role models for their team, and act with good intentions rather than with selfish motives.

2. Helps foster an open and positive work environment

A strong organization values integrity as a way to foster an open and positive work environment. When employees know their company operates based on strong values, they feel comfortable sharing ideas, connecting with their team, and being themselves.

3. Promotes an ethical approach to decision-making

From protecting stakeholders to creating new products, upholding strong moral standards in the workplace helps team members make deliberate, thoughtful decisions.

4. Encourages diversity, equity, and inclusion

Companies that promote integrity value having a diverse team. They welcome a variety of perspectives, celebrate differences, and strive for equality in the workplace.

5. Promotes strong and resilient teams

Teams are strong and resilient when they have a set of standards as guidance. They also feel a sense of meaning and purpose at work. This contributes to their morale, productivity, and engagement. 

6. Actively builds and maintains trust

Honesty and integrity are the main pillars of trust — an essential component for building credibility. As businesses strive to keep customers and employees, their credibility is the driving force that influences them to stay.

Demonstrating integrity at work

Here are five ways to demonstrate integrity in the workplace: 

1. Respect others’ opinions

One of the best ways to demonstrate integrity at work is by honoring your colleagues’ and managers’ opinions and ideas, even if you disagree. 

For instance, instead of turning down an idea, try to see things from their perspective first. Why do you think they chose that idea? Could you be wrong with your opinion? 

If you’re unclear about what they mean, kindly ask for clarification or ask specific questions to understand. For example, you could say, “Can you please explain how we could implement your idea step-by-step?” Or, “Can you clarify what you mean by ___?”

Or, you can use the tried-and-true ‘treat others how you want to be treated’ philosophy when responding.

2. Address conflict honestly and respectfully 

Workplace conflict can quickly turn into a sticky situation and may even lead to termination if not handled well. The best way to address conflict is to respond calmly, honestly, and respectfully. 

First, make sure you understand what the conflict is really about. Is a customer unhappy with a transaction? Do you disagree with your manager’s decision? Why? 

Once you’re clear on the root of the conflict, validate feelings, apologize if needed, and try to reach a solution. If you can’t find a solution, ask for support from a manager or HR if needed.

3. Be a role model 

Modeling integrity is a powerful way to be a change-maker at your organization. This means taking responsibility for your decisions and actions, especially when you make a mistake. Being honest and respectful, keeping your promises, and staying engaged with your work is crucial. 

As a role model, you’ll not only encourage other team members to follow suit, but you’ll also promote a positive company culture. 

4. Be ready to work

Coming to work prepared and ready to tackle your responsibilities is essential to integrity at work. 

Set yourself up for a productive day by eating a healthy breakfast, getting enough sleep the night before, and carving out some alone time before heading to work. Take your morning even further by adding a wellness practice like mindfulness meditation, tai-chi, or yoga.

When you get to work, grab a notepad and plan your schedule for the day. What do you need to accomplish by the end of the day? Who do you need to speak with? 

Once you’re set on your goals for the day, make sure you have all the tools you need to complete your work. Then, start taking action and check off the items on your to-do list, one by one. 

5. Report unethical behavior 

It may seem uncomfortable to report your colleagues or managers for unethical behavior. However, it’s a vital part of holding your company accountable to the moral standards they’ve set in place.

When reporting unethical behavior, be as specific as possible. Explain who offended company policies, how they offended them, and where and when you saw the action take place.

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Prioritizing integrity in the workplace

Having integrity in the workplace is essential to building trust with your colleagues and managers. It's also integral for making ethical decisions, and addressing challenges calmly and purposefully.

Need help sharpening your integrity? Discover your strengths and achieve your goals with BetterUp’s personalized coaching.

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Published June 2, 2021

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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