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What integrity at work looks like and 5 ways to foster it

June 30, 2022 - 25 min read

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What is integrity?

7 traits associated with integrity

What does it mean to have integrity at work?

The importance of integrity in the workplace?

Key examples of integrity in the workplace

5 ways to foster integrity at work

Prioritizing integrity in the workplace

Integrity at work is about more than honesty and respect. If an organization has a true culture of integrity, that means employees take their commitments seriously, are proactive when they don’t understand their responsibilities, and ultimately, are accountable for their results. As a result, the business thrives.

We all want to make other people happy and succeed professionally. However, that can lead employees to overpromise on what they’re capable of, resulting in burnout and lack of engagement. Whether it’s constantly missing deadlines or losing interest in work altogether, a lack of integrity will harm both the company and the individuals who make it up. 

Integrity isn’t easy, but it’s incredibly important for real, lasting growth. From fostering an open and positive work environment to promoting strong and resilient teams, integrity in the workplace benefits employers and employees. 

Let’s review what integrity means, why having integrity at work matters, and how to foster it at your workplace.

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What is integrity?

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 or going back to the store to pay for something you forgot to pay for are two examples of showing integrity in everyday circumstances.

7 traits associated with integrity 

Integrity may seem like a vague concept. If you want to encourage integrity at your workplace and live it out for yourself, you might need a more concrete definition. One of the best ways to understand this concept is to look at the traits associated with integrity.

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Here are the 7 most common traits that a person with integrity shows: 

  • 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

1. Expresses gratitude for others

People with integrity recognize that their friends, coworkers, and community make their lives better. They show gratitude by always remembering to say a simple “thank you” when someone helps them out. They might also take the time to write a thoughtful note to a coworker who helped them complete an important project. Or, they may go the extra mile to give their friend a gift when they’ve supported them through a difficult time. 

2. Communicates honestly and openly 

A person with integrity doesn’t run away from difficult conversations or situations. If they have a conflict with another person, they’re open about it — they don’t hide their feelings only to become resentful later on. They are also honest about their time, abilities, and preferences. No matter the situation, integrity ultimately means your moral principles are more important than your personal comfort — and honesty can be uncomfortable sometimes.

3. Takes responsibility for your actions, good and bad

If you have integrity, it means you’re accountable for your actions — even when you miss the mark. It’s easy to take ownership when you do something well. However, integrity really comes into play when you face failure. If you want to live with integrity and grow personally, you must learn to admit when you make a mistake and then choose to learn from it. 

4. Respects yourself and those around you, no matter where you are

You might not think of boundaries when you think of integrity. However, living in integrity means living at peace with yourself and your values — and relationship boundaries, whether it’s with your coworkers or your family, help you do that. For example, if your friend wants to call you during work, but you need to finish a project, you need to set a boundary and call them later. 

Integrity also means respecting others’ boundaries. Let’s say your coworker doesn’t want to talk about their dating life. So as a person with integrity, you don’t ask them certain questions. You also need to respect their time, personal values, and their identity — for example, using correct gender pronouns.

5. Helps those in need without sacrificing your own health 

This trait goes hand in hand with respecting yourself and others. People with integrity naturally want to help others — but what separates them from most people is their ability to know their own limits. A person with integrity will help others with their time, abilities, and even finances. But they’ll always also prioritize self-care, fueling themselves so that they can stay resilient for years to come. 

6. Demonstrates reliability and trustworthiness 

Knowing how to build trust is important in all of life, especially when it comes to integrity at work. If you’re a member of a team or organization, people count on you to do what you say you will. If you don’t, there will be consequences for not just you, but everyone around you. Being a reliable and trustworthy person is crucial to living with integrity. 

7. Shows patience and flexibility, even when unexpected obstacles show up

People with integrity overcome life’s obstacles with resilience. For example, let’s say they lost their job. They may feel hopeless or frustrated at first. However, a person with integrity would eventually see that this challenge is just another opportunity for growth. With a bit of patience and flexible expectations, they can take positive action.

What is integrity at work?

Now that you have a clear idea of what integrity looks like, let’s go a little deeper by answering the question, “what is integrity at work?”

Integrity at work supports a company and leader's set of moral and ethical standards. This will result both in happier employers and employees.

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.

Integrity at work is also about committing with integrity. For example, if a team leader shares a new project, employees with integrity need to be honest about their time and abilities before agreeing to take on more work. They also need to make sure they have an understanding of what’s needed and the scope of the project. 

If there’s a lack of integrity on the team, members will halfheartedly accept new assignments, even if they are not able to accomplish them on time. They might also walk out of the meeting still wondering what their role in the project actually is.

At its core, integrity at work is about taking initiative, negotiating your time honestly, and staying aligned with your personal and work values. That also means delivering on your commitments when you make them, and saying no when you can’t take on anything new. Finally, it’s about knowing how to communicate — so if you do get out of integrity, you can admit your mistakes honestly and share how you will fix the situation.

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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

Key examples of integrity in the workplace

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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The importance of integrity at work

But why does integrity at work truly matter? Workplace integrity should be a core value for any organization that wants to succeed, grow, and maintain ethical practices. When employees have integrity, companies and their teams can operate smoothly. 

Organizations with integrity can also keep high-value customers, reduce employee turnover, improve productivity, and make smart decisions. Plus, integrity leads employees to be honest about what they accomplish and proactive when they have questions. That means fewer missed deadlines and less employee burnout.

why-it’s-important-to-have-integrity-at-work-integrity-in-the-workplace

Here are 6 more benefits that come from a culture of integrity at work:

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. It can even push employees to reach peak performance.

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.

5 ways to foster integrity at work

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Clearly, a culture of integrity can help an organization reach its goals while creating a better workplace for its employees. If you want to help foster more integrity among your employees — and within yourself — here are five ways to get started:

1. Respect others’ opinions

One of the best ways to demonstrate integrity at work is by honoring your colleagues’ and employees’ 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 are crucial. 

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

4. Be ready to work

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

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, employees 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 employees. It's also integral for making ethical decisions and addressing challenges calmly and purposefully.

Need help building your integrity? Discover your strengths and achieve your goals with BetterUp.

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Published June 30, 2022

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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