The psychological costs of low workplace integrity
“Organisations need to create high-integrity workplaces, because the cost of ignoring integrity as a C-Suite [corporate officers and directors] agenda, is too high,” says Charissa Bloomberg, an Integrity Leadership Specialist and Celebrity Psychologist.
"Integrity in all spheres of life is important, but the way that it plays out in the workplace is vital because the repercussions of low integrity are damaging and far-reaching – an organisation’s success depends on it. Integrity is an underlying moral code that compels a person to do the right thing in every circumstance.
As a psychologist, I believe that most people have a moral compass that allows them to know the difference between right and wrong. Whether they choose to act according to this moral compass is of course the main issue surrounding integrity.
For those that prefer to act with integrity, should they find themselves in a workplace environment that doesn’t operate with integrity, the psychological costs to those people are high: it puts pressure on the person, creates stress in their bodies, which will implicate not only their wellbeing but their productivity in the workplace as well.
These stressed employees can experience adrenal fatigue as well as feelings of isolation, especially if the honest individual feels they are surrounded by corrupt colleagues.
The organisational costs of low integrity
Organisations that are perceived by their employees to have low integrity garner feelings of resentment and experience high employee turnover and high rates of absenteeism which all affect an organisation’s bottom line.
Staff apply for transfers to other branches, and if they are of good calibre, are likely to find another job, leaving the organisation with "dead wood’" These days, the immediacy of social media spells certain doom for organisations whose customers perceive to them to have low integrity.
I believe that those who behave in a corrupt manner know that they are doing wrong. There are many reasons behind corruption, and sadly, not many of them are owing to an underlying psychological pathology.
Corruption can stem from greed, fear, disgruntled employees, feelings of being overworked, underpaid or under appreciated. Furthermore, many organisations don’t create an environment of integrity, or they list it as one of their values but lack understanding of how to implement it.
Can integrity be taught?
To a certain degree, I believe that integrity can be taught through experiential learning and guiding people to find the integrity that already lies within them. For example, if staff were given opportunities to practice integrity, even in a simulated environment such as a work shop or focus group, they would learn how good it feels to do the right things.
Organisations can certainly be taught how to roll out integrity as a strategic driver of success.
High integrity workplaces
Companies need to view integrity as a strategic issue, and implement an integrity strategy so that it becomes embedded in the organisational culture, a practice, and not a lofty goal.
Examples of high integrity strategic practices
Firstly, corruption needs to be stamped out by creating "whistle blower" infrastructure, as well as a staff awareness campaign to help start the culture change. Staff need to be given opportunities to act with integrity and be shown examples of the repercussions of acting with integrity and without.
Where possible, examples need to be simulated where employees can recognise and practice integrity, or create peer or mentor situations where staff can workshop ideas and acts of integrity in a safe a non-judgemental environment.
Rewarding integrity in the workplace
This is a controversial issue that would largely depend on the type and size of the organisation, what their symptoms of low integrity are, and what their strategic goals are around integrity.
In general, I feel that acting with integrity is its own reward. It feels good and it feels right. As the patron of my integrity endeavours, Adv Thuli Madonsela says, “Doing the right things makes you grow six inches taller.”
Charissa Bloomberg is a Celebrity Psychologist regularly appearing on South African Radio and Television. She has 19 years of experience facilitating within organizations and is an integrity leadership specialist. For comments and queries regarding integrity in the workplace, or to learn more about Ms Bloomberg’s ‘Do The Right Thing Now’ Youth Campaign, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Image of Charissa Bloomberg supplied