Integrity in the Workplace (What It Is & Why It’s Important)

Integrity in the workplaceIntegrity in the workplace matters. In fact, integrity is often viewed as one of the most important and highly sought after characteristics of both employees and employers.

A recent Global Integrity Survey from EY reported that 97% of respondents agree that integrity is a vital foundation for any corporation (Gordon, 2022).

Despite the sweeping agreement that integrity offers significant value to organizations, EY highlights a widening gap between awareness of integrity’s role in business operations and diminishing standards of conduct (Gordon, 2022).

As such, organizations must be proactive in creating a culture where integrity can take precedent.

Read on to see what integrity in the workplace looks like, the benefits of being a leader of integrity, and practical pathways to becoming more consistent.

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What Is the Meaning of Integrity?

What does it mean to have integrity? According to Peterson and Seligman (2004), integrity is a character strength involving honesty, morality, and trustworthiness.

A key feature of individuals with integrity is their ability for consistency and self-concordance — that is, alignment between their values and behaviors.

Integrity in the workplace encompasses a range of qualities and behaviors that reflect honesty, ethics, and consistency in work-based actions.

Importantly, integrity can occur at an individual level (i.e., leaders and employees can align their words and deeds; Simons, 2002) and at the organizational level (i.e., corporations can be committed to fair governance and sustainable, ethical behaviors that give back to society; Gordon, 2022).

Within the workplace, integrity can play out in a number of ways on both the individual and organizational level.

At the individual level, this may look like:

  • Being honest and trustworthy
  • Adhering to company values
  • Being consistent
  • Being professional
  • Making decisions ethically

At the organizational level, this may look like:

  • Building a culture of integrity through leadership
  • Making ethical business decisions
  • Having clear corporate social responsibility commitments
  • Adhering to regulations and laws
  • Operating with fair and transparent governance

In short, workplace integrity can operate on two levels: the personal integrity of each employee and the integrity of the corporation. However, there is one key behavior that characterizes both: ethical behavior that serves to uphold moral principles.

Understanding Integrity in the Workplace

Moral virtues in the workplaceDespite growing awareness of the importance of integrity to organizational functioning, there remains a gap between awareness and action.

Corporations are failing to engage in integrity in a meaningful way, and as such, mismatches between senior management’s perceptions of integrity and those of the employees are widening (Gordon, 2022).

It is therefore vital to start with the basics: understanding the myriad benefits that a culture of integrity provides to an organization.

4 Reasons it is important

Integrity in the workplace is crucial for several reasons.

1. Positive work environment

A workplace culture based on integrity creates an environment that breeds positivity and support, and is one where employees feel able to work ethically and to raise concerns without fear of retaliation (Gordon, 2022).

The behavioral integrity of leaders is also directly correlated to increased organizational commitment, employee retention, and job satisfaction (Davis & Rothstein, 2006).

2. Ethical conduct and risk management

Integrity helps prevent unethical behavior such as fraud, corruption, and misconduct. Indeed, fraud and risk assessments are critical corporate integrity action points (Gordon, 2022).

When employees uphold moral principles and adhere to ethical standards, they contribute to the culture of integrity and compliance within the organization.

3. Credibility, reputation, and brand image

Integrity builds trust and confidence in coworkers, clients, and stakeholders (Engelbrecht et al., 2017).

Organizations with a reputation for integrity are also more attractive to customers, investors, and potential employees. Maintaining integrity enhances the organization’s brand image and credibility in the marketplace and reduces the severe reputational damage that can follow unethical behavior (Cialdini et al., 2004).

4. Long-term success

Organizations that prioritize integrity are more likely to achieve long-term success and sustainability (Nink & Robison, 2020). By building trust with stakeholders, maintaining ethical standards, and fostering a positive work environment, they create a solid foundation for growth and resilience.

When organizations thoughtfully take the time to plan their workplace integrity strategy, they are able to reap numerous benefits and simultaneously avoid some serious pitfalls that can have disastrous implications for brand reputation.

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2 Examples of Moral Virtues in the Office

Below, we outline memorable real-world examples of integrity in the work domain. What you may notice is that all of them involve a leader with unwavering integrity.

1. Ben & Jerry’s social justice campaigns

In June 2020, amid widespread protests against racial injustice and police brutality following the killing of George Floyd, Ben & Jerry’s (n.d.) released a statement addressing systemic racism and calling for concrete action to dismantle it. The statement was titled “Silence Is NOT an Option.” In the statement, Ben & Jerry’s expressed solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and pledged to support efforts to combat racial injustice.

Ben & Jerry’s decision to speak out against racism and support the Black Lives Matter movement demonstrated incredible organizational integrity. The company aligned its actions with its values despite enormous risks to the brand, such as backlash from consumers or political scrutiny. The company chose to prioritize its principles of justice and equity.

In the years following this example, Ben & Jerry’s has continued to be vocal in its support of human rights and social justice issues.

2. Patagonia’s environmental stewardship

Patagonia, an outdoor clothing and gear company, is well known for its commitment to environmental sustainability and corporate responsibility.

One notable example of its organizational integrity occurred in September 2022, when Patagonia founder and CEO Yvon Chouinard announced he was donating the entirety of Patagonia’s future profits to climate charities (Gelles, 2022).

Chouinard has been vocal about the urgency of addressing climate change and the importance of businesses taking responsibility for their environmental impact. This decision received widespread media coverage and praise from environmental activists, consumers, and stakeholders.

It exemplifies how integrity in the workplace can be manifested through concrete actions that align with organizational values and contribute to broader social and environmental goals.

These examples demonstrate that it is possible for organizations and leaders to do the right thing and boost their positive reputation by doing so. Yet there are as many, if not more, examples of corporations and leaders behaving badly. To combat this, companies must look to their leaders.

Leading by Example: Integrity in Leadership

Integrity in leadershipThe most powerful route to building an organization that operates with integrity and attracts the very best talent is to hire and develop leaders with integrity.

It is likely not surprising to hear that leaders are the vanguards of organizational culture and brand image. Therefore, leaders who live by their values and champion honesty and ethical decision-making shepherd organizations toward success.

Below, we outline the key attributes of leaders with integrity (Nink & Robinson, 2020).

1. Honesty and transparency

Leaders with integrity are honest and transparent in their communication. They share information openly, even when it’s difficult or uncomfortable. They do not withhold or distort information for personal gain, and they can be trusted to make the right decisions.

2. Consistency, reliability, and accountability

When leaders are consistent with their words and actions and align their behavior with their values and principles, they demonstrate reliability.

Leaders with integrity are unwaveringly reliable. They fulfill their commitments and take responsibility for their actions and decisions. This includes being accountable for mistakes and errors, learning from them, and taking steps to rectify any negative consequences.

3. Ethical decision-making

Leaders with integrity evaluate situations and make decisions based on ethical principles, even when it might be easier to act otherwise or when facing pressure to compromise. They consider the impact of their decisions on stakeholders and society as a whole.

4. Courage and conviction

Integrity requires courage to stand up for what is right, even in the face of opposition or adversity.

Leaders with integrity have the courage to speak truth to power, uphold their principles, and defend the interests of their team and organization.

5. Respect, professionalism, and empathy

Trustworthy leaders show respect, courtesy, and empathy toward others, valuing diverse perspectives and experiences.

They listen actively, seeking to understand different viewpoints, while treating individuals with dignity and compassion. Leaders with integrity foster a positive work environment by valuing diversity, promoting inclusivity, and working tirelessly to uphold principles of equity and justice in their interactions and decision-making.

6. Leading by example

Leaders with integrity lead by example, embodying the values and behaviors they expect from others. Their actions inspire trust, credibility, and excellence in their team members, stakeholders, and the broader community.

7. Adherence to company values

Beyond self-concordance, leaders also actively align their actions with the values and mission of the organization, even when faced with difficult decisions or conflicting interests.

Overall, integrity in leadership is about being authentic, ethical, and principled in one’s conduct, and this sets the tone for organizational culture and shapes the direction and impact of the entire organization.

How to Promote a Culture of Workplace Integrity

It is not just leaders who should bear the burden of generating and maintaining workplace integrity, though their role is integral.

All employees and the organization as a whole must work together to build a culture of integrity (Kayes et al., 2007).

Below, we look at several concrete approaches that can elevate any organization’s integrity approach.

Psychological safety

Trust is one of the foundational pillars of workplace integrity. Not surprising, trust also provides the foundation for psychological safety.

As such, one way leaders can seek to build integrity is to make the work environment safe for their employees. Psychological safety in the workplace involves leaders actively driving out fear from their team members by promoting open feedback, focusing on team relationships, rewarding failure, and showing humility.


To be a person of integrity involves a degree of authenticity, and to be authentic requires self-awareness of your values and beliefs. The two are inherently linked, such that authenticity can be thought of as the embodiment of an individual’s values.

According to Oyserman (2001, p. 16150), values are “priorities, internal compasses or springboards for action — moral imperatives.” So values themselves are not actions but rather guiding principles for action. Moreover, values are more than individual preferences; they are social contracts about what is right and good.

Authenticity can be further understood as the “unobstructed operation of one’s true or core self in one’s daily enterprises” (Goldman & Kernis, 2002, p. 2) and comprises four components (Kernis & Goldman, 2006):

  • Self-awareness
  • Unbiased processing of the self
  • Self-concordant behavior
  • Relational openness

To build authentic leaders, organizations could collaborate with their employees to shape company values that align with personal values and use 360-degree feedback to help build awareness.

Beyond these two specific pathways, organizations can also look to take a systematic and comprehensive approach to building integrity in the workplace by providing education and training on the “why” of integrity (the benefits) and the “why not” (the consequences for transgressions).

Integrity can further be assessed in performance metrics and built into leadership training programs. On a more systemic level, an organization’s processes and policies can be audited to focus more on ethical operating (Kayes et al., 2007).

If you’re looking for more information about authenticity, you may enjoy this TEDx talk by Herminia Ibarra on the authenticity paradox.

The authenticity paradox - Professor Herminia Ibarra

Ways in Which Integrity at Work Can Promote Wellbeing

Earlier in the article, we outlined some of the reasons why integrity in the workplace is important. In this section, we expand on one of those reasons.

Below, we outline several ways integrity can have a positive influence on employee wellbeing.

1. Reduced stress and anxiety

In an environment where integrity is prioritized, employees experience less stress and anxiety related to ethical dilemmas or concerns about dishonesty and unfair treatment (Prottas, 2008).

When employees can rely on their colleagues and leaders to act with integrity, this reduces uncertainty and fosters a sense of psychological safety, contributing to better mental and emotional wellbeing.

2. Enhanced job satisfaction

Employees who work in an environment characterized by integrity are more likely to have greater job satisfaction and be more committed to their organization (Davis & Rothstein, 2006).

When employees trust that their organization operates with integrity and treats them fairly, employee engagement increases, leading to greater overall wellbeing.

3. Healthy relationships and collaboration

Integrity promotes healthy relationships among coworkers based on mutual respect, honesty, and trust.

Collaboration becomes more effective when built on a foundation of integrity, as employees can rely on each other to uphold shared values and work toward common goals (Edmondson, 2018).

Having positive interpersonal relationships contributes to a supportive work environment where employees feel valued, understood, and supported, enhancing their sense of belonging and wellbeing.

4. Organizational citizenship behaviors

Employees who perceive their organization as having integrity are more likely to engage in organizational citizenship behaviors, such as helping others, volunteering for extra tasks, and advocating for the organization (Dineen et al., 2006).

These behaviors contribute to a positive work environment and enhance employees’ wellbeing.

Taken together, the benefits to be gained from workplace integrity abound. Specifically, integrity promotes wellbeing by fostering trust, reducing stress, enhancing job satisfaction, facilitating healthy relationships, and fostering a positive organizational culture where employees can thrive.

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Worksheets From

To further highlight the link between authenticity and integrity, below we outline worksheets and exercises that help leaders identify their values and lean into authentic behavior in the workplace.

One excellent way to help zone in on our authentic selves is to write a mission statement. In this worksheet, leaders are encouraged to identify what they stand for and what they plan to do.

To act with integrity relies largely on being able to uphold one’s values. In the core values worksheet, individuals are provided with an extensive list of values and invited to consider which values resonate with them.

Another important skill required in order to identify your values and core self is self-awareness. One exercise promoted to boost self-awareness is the Johari window.

Lastly, leaders may be interested in the following article on authentic leadership, which outlines the characteristic traits of authentic leaders along with exercises and training to help individuals foster an authentic leadership style.

If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others develop positive leadership skills, check out this collection of 17 validated positive leadership exercises. Use them to equip leaders with the skills needed to cultivate a culture of positivity and resilience.

A Take-Home Message

According to Nink and Robison (2020), as the world of work continues to shift in line with hastening technology, trust will become the ultimate brand attribute. Yet as it stands, only 40% of employees in the United Kingdom and 36% in the United States think their employer “would do what is right.”

This highlights a significant gap between expectations of workplace integrity and reality.

To address this gap, organizations must create a culture of integrity, where values are embodied throughout the hierarchy of the company and there is zero tolerance for noncompliance or transgressions (Kayes et al., 2007).

Leaders play a pivotal role in creating such an environment and could look toward developing their own skills of self-awareness, authenticity, and empathy.

But ultimately, integrity in the workplace is more than just a boon for businesses; it’s about building a brighter future where honesty, accountability, and ethical leadership pave the way for a stronger, more trustworthy society.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Leadership Exercises for free.

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