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What steps can you take to improve integrity in the workplace?

The headlines are full of famous names facing tests of their integrity – anchormen, entertainers, sports figures and leaders of the highest echelons of politics and business. In fact, many Americans think we are facing a crisis of integrity.

We set out to find out if integrity is still important. The truth is that almost everyone desires integrity in the workplace, but there is a gap between what organizations value and what they see in their workplace.

Here are some of the findings from our Integrity in Selling Study™

95% of those surveyed said integrity is one of their organizational values.

72% agreed that employees at all levels operate with honesty, integrity and respect for others.

38% believe that employees cannot be trusted to keep their promises and commitments.

As much as people cry for integrity and honesty, there seems to be a tendency for many to cheat if there is a personal advantage to the situation. According to, people seem to justify their dishonesty with a type of internal gauge. People don’t cheat as much as they can get away with; rather they cheat up to the point at which they can continue to believe that they are good people. When facing the opportunity to cheat, people seem to experience a conflict between their desire to maintain a positive self-image by behaving honestly and their desire to advance their self-interest.

Additionally, the gap between our desired behavior and our actual actions is fairly common. When an employee is faced with a moral decision, the employee will look to others in the organization to gain information about accepted behavior. This is why leaders modeling the values and behaviors they want to see embedded in their organizations is so critical. reports lab experiments have shown that when people see others like them (e.g., their peers, or people they feel similar to) behaving unethically, they are more likely to cheat themselves.

Some of the ways to approach creating a healthier environment for integrity are as follows:

  1. Walk the Talk. We all know what this means. It is imperative that leaders lead in values-based, ethical behavior. The leader’s actions set the tone for acceptable behavior and have a profound effect on creating trust and employee decisions to cross ethical boundaries.
  2. Focus on the situations in which you place your employees. People differ in levels of personal integrity and they also make different choices if contextual triggers are removed. An example is research that shows that students cheat less on an exam when the honor code was placed at the beginning of the exam rather that at the end of the exam.
  3. Consider both the formal and the informal structures within the organization. The values may say one thing but actual behavior is sending a stronger message about what is important. If everyone is doing it, it actually creates greater dishonesty.
  4. Develop a culture that values integrity more than metrics.   Outcomes are important but a focus on people’s efforts, improvements and learning help balance just a bottom line mentality.
About the Author
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Mike Esterday

Partner and CEO

Over the past 40 years Mike Esterday has experienced a wide variety of success in sales, management and training. In...
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