Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Integrity and Employee Well-being

Compromising your integrity at work is high stakes

The practice of integrity is an important, although often overlooked, component of employee well-being. I say ‘practice' because integrity is formed through repeated,consistent action over time. Webster's definition of integrity is "the quality or state of being complete or undivided".

We all have personal values and beliefs that define us. They influence our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. These values and beliefs guide our decisions, interactions, and evaluation of ourselves. When we act in accordance with our values, we feel good about ourselves. Alternatively, when we act in ways that are not consistent with our values, we feel bad as a consequence.

If we know going against our values will make us feel bad about ourselves, why do we do it? Many times we find ourselves in situations where we will either uphold our values or compromise them. We do not compromise them on purpose. It often happens very subtly, with escalations of commitment and expectations over time.

Recognizing that we are acting in opposition to our values creates an internal experience of being divided. This, in turn, leads to varying degrees of discomfort and psychological conflict. Ongoing conflict can result in the development of physical symptoms, such as anxiety, insomnia or overeating.

If your company's policies, values and culture are consistent with your values and beliefs, then you are able to act with integrity. Frequently, there is a conflict between the employee's values and the
organization's values. Consider an HR employee who is encouraged to present a position to an interviewee in a positive light, and omit the "negative" aspects of the job. If this employee values being honest and open, the company's expectation of selective disclosure
will contribute to a sense of unease.

What if you value having a healthy work-life balance, and good self-care within a company that expects its employees to work overtime regularly? If you don't work overtime, it might appear that you are not a good employee, or committed to the company. If you do meet company expectations, then you will likely feel that you are compromising what you believe is important.

One of three responses is likely to happen. You will begin to feel resentful towards the company, disappointed in yourself, or both. This is not good for your well-being, nor for the company in terms of morale and performance. If this conflict in values is too uncomfortable, you might then resort to unhealthy coping behaviors.

To succeed in maintaining your integrity in the workplace, I offer the following suggestions:

1. Invest time in identifying your primary values and workplace-related beliefs. It's time well spent.

2. If you are in transition between companies and are considering whether to accept a position, examine what the company culture is like. Speak with current employees and ask them about company practices, policies, and what the company truly values. Does their mission statement state one thing, and their policies and decisions reflect another? Look for consistency between words and actions. Find a company whose culture supports your values and work philosophy.

3. If you are finding it difficult to be true to yourself as well as to your employer, assess the stress the situation is causing you and how it is affecting your opinion of yourself. If significant, consider addressing your concerns with your supervisor; ask to be removed from that particular situation; make a lateral/vertical move; change the policy if possible; or leave the company if you believe staying would be at the cost of your integrity.

More from Dana Gionta Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today