James Hyndman

How can you foster integrity in the workplace?


We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly.”

– Aristotle

As consumers become increasingly aware of the social and environmental issues facing the world, running a business ethically is more important than ever. But, when times are tough and people need to meet deadlines, corner-cutting is all too tempting. While you might be pushing your business’ integrity to customers, if your employees don’t feel engaged in it, all your work will be for nothing. One bad headline or employee review could ruin your image. How can you encourage a culture of integrity and ethics in your workplace?

1) Review Your Incentives Scheme

It’s difficult to stay ethical when such high pressure is placed on meeting targets.

If you’re giving bonuses out for meeting targets, whether these be related to sales, new contracts or other aspects linked to productivity, it’s going to encourage people to abuse the system. GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), for example, had robust anti-corruption rules, but ended up facing a criminal investigation when they were caught bribing doctors and foreign officials, eventually leading to a $489 million fine.

At the time, GSK had a compensation system in place in which bonuses were linked to individual sales performance. This might sound reasonable, but when people are determined to meet their targets they might resort to under the table means of achieving that. After the scandal, GSK changed its incentive policy to evaluate employees on a range of factors, including knowledge, compliance with the company’s values and customer service and satisfaction.

Integral to running your workplace ethically is leading by example.Integral to running your workplace ethically is leading by example.

2) Lead By Example

Think about what values you’re espousing. A get there at-all-costs mentality coupled with a lack of understanding when employees don’t hit their target will likely foster unethical actions.

When you show you have integrity, your employees will follow suit.

On the other hand, when you show you have integrity, your employees will follow suit. It’s important to evaluate your own behaviour and ensure everything you do is by the book. Actions are more important than words, and showing your employees that you don’t cut corners is an important part of leading by example.

Also be aware of the precedent you’re setting by who you give promotions to. Those that are meeting target but doing it unethically should not be considered.

If you wouldn't want something to appear in the news, don't do it.If you wouldn’t want something to appear in the news, don’t do it.

3) Have A Clear Mechanism For Dealing With Unethical Behaviour

You must hold people accountable if they act unethically.

You should set out in an open document what constitutes unethical behaviour, and include the processes you have in place for dealing with or reporting it. You must hold people accountable if they act unethically, but also remember that they might be pressured into doing it by someone higher up than them. This is why it’s important to investigate a matter fully before you act on the information you’ve received.

You should let your employees know that if someone senior to them has asked them to do something unethical, they are able to report it to you directly.

If you wouldn’t want something you’ve done to appear in a newspaper headline, don’t do it. Corner-cutting might seem like the easy option at the time, but it will harm your business’ reputation and sales if it gets out. It’s simply not worth the risk.