Why You Need to Define ‘Integrity’

by | Nov 8, 2019 | Blog

We all identify with our job role. When we introduce ourselves to others, we are often soon after asked ‘so what is it that you do?’ And while many people have pointed out that your work is not what defines you, it actually is for many people. A medical doctor should rightly be proud of the many years of dedicated study it takes to earn such a respected title. A city sanitation officer should also be proud of securing a job that pays a steady income and is an often ignored yet vital part of our everyday lives. We do define part of who we are by what most of us spend about 8-hours per day and 60-odd years of our lives doing.

What we often forget to define is ‘integrity.’

The word itself is defined as:

the practice of being honest and showing a consistent and uncompromising adherence to strong moral and ethical principles and values.

However, when we apply the word as a filter for what we need from employees, the term means so much more.

Does it mean hardworking?

For many people, hardworking means ‘working’ 12-hour days, sleeping little and showing an unquestioning commitment to work. While this might be necessary for some industries, such as farming, in others, such as creative arts, it is not only counterproductive, it is counter-intuitive.

In a globalised marketplace, flexibility has replaced ‘hardworking’ as the measure for your worth. A hard worker is someone who consistently delivers high-quality work in the given timeframes and meeting with all guidelines. Whether this person is a petrol station attendant who always counts their till twice, or a scientist who cleans every glass beaker after use, what quantifies a hard worker is less about hours and more about the ability of that person to see how they can contribute more to their work.

Does it mean technical expertise?

People who understand how to use the tools of their job to maximise their potential are using the acquired skills they possess to complete a task that you presumably hired them to do. While knowing how to use tools and doing so in ways that sometimes leave others to wonder in amazement at how they did it requires expertise, not integrity.

Many tools are so user friendly in the modern workplace that with some training most people can adapt. It might not be necessary for you to know how to operate the three-hole punch that collects dust in the stationery cupboard, but when the intern pulls it out and questions what the device is for, it’s nice to be able to teach them something new and unnecessary. It does not, however, require integrity, that comes into play when you decide if you are going to show them what the hole punch is really for or if you are going to lie.

Does it require charisma?

Charismatic people, for many, are the blight of the Earth; for others, they are the light in a windowless office building. Love or hate that charismatic character that swans through life, it is not a quality that you require to have integrity. In fact, if you are charismatic you may never feel the need to develop a sense of integrity in your work, because you are likely able to charm your way into any job that you want.

Actually, we all have a little charisma. If you also have a sense of integrity, you will know just how to shine. For some, this is in a big way by just being ‘that’ person who others gravitate towards. This same type learns how to use their powers of persuasion for the benefit of your business, such as closing a sale or attending networking functions.

Other quiet charismatic types take the time to offer to put the kettle on or listen when a customer needs to vent. We all have this quality, so while integrity does not need charisma, charisma needs integrity; for restraint.

Tell Me What It Means

Integrity in your work means commitment, honesty, pride and caring. If you have true integrity, you care about what you do, because you understand that it is part of you. You spend your life working, so you should care about what you do. If you have no pride in your work, you don’t care about your team, you couldn’t be bothered to commit to your tasks and you are dishonest about your mistakes, then other aspects of your life will feel hollow.

We are not all lucky enough to do what we love, but we do all need to work. Not just to feed ourselves, but to give us a sense of purpose. Feeling that your job is an integral part of who you are, even if you don’t always enjoy the tasks, helps us to make sense of why we get out of bed each day.

As an employer, you need to know what integrity is in your company. It should be a question you ask of prospective employees; ‘what does integrity mean to you in terms of your work?’ The answer the person gives will be an indication of whether that person can fit with your company values.

Your company might value employees who take their time to produce high-quality work, but who are not expected to work 9-5, 5 days a week. Instead, you might ask that your employees are available when needed and work on their ongoing tasks with little oversight.

Or, your company might need people who will show up on time every day, understand that their breaks are time-sensitive and who will say ‘yes’ to extended time on occasion without additional pay.

What you need will depend on your business. What matters is knowing what integrity means as a value in your business, communicating that and determining that those who work for you have the same values. Doing so will ensure that you reduce your turn over rate, increase productivity and engagement and foster a working environment in which employees feel they have an opportunity to thrive.

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