The Quest for Integrity in the Workplace

Ever since I can recall, I enjoyed reading stories about heroes being successful in their quests by acting upon honorable values, and I quickly understood that villains could only fail. These tales state that in a perfect world, good people do well, and bad people end badly. In the real world, however, living by our values is more complex than in the fantasy world. The only way to be truly ethical is if a specific virtue is present.

Values like honesty, respect, trust, loyalty, and more, cease to exist on a black-and-white canvas. In real life, we go through situations full of textures, facets, and shades of colors. In the world of business, corporate relations, and financial decisions, ‘doing the right thing’ is no longer an easy task. Decision-making needs to take into account a myriad of factors and can lead to consequences way beyond our will and power.

If a person cannot live up to their values, it may not be for lack of ethics nor effort, but for the simple reason that life will always find a way to create circumstances where beliefs may be challenged, and contradictions may rise. Yet, every person can possess a virtue that completes and guides each decision towards their core believe, and that is integrity.

“Honesty is telling the truth to other people, integrity is telling the truth to myself.” This famous saying by Spencer Johnson describes integrity in a perfect way. Integrity is not something that can be faked, it cannot be adopted half-heartedly, and it requires self-reflection to identify our own moral compass. When it comes to the workplace, people tend to gravitate towards leaders and organizations who demonstrate integrity.

In my personal experience, I have been lucky enough to experience situations that helped me distinguish between people who truly live their values from the ones who merely pay lip service to ethics in their work environment. For example, when I worked for a small start-up, the marketing team was faced with the difficult challenge of making a team member redundant due to budget cuts. The CEO decided to perform a set of individual interviews where we were asked to talk about our colleagues and to point out the people whom we thought were adding less value to the team. Not only was this approach causing rumors and lack of trust, it also led to loss of team spirit afterwards. This was not the first time I saw actions that made me think our leader was showing a lack of integrity.

I have been living a very different experience since I joined GAIA Insights a year ago. It was clear that the impact of the global pandemic was also presenting challenges for the company. Yet, I quickly noticed a significant difference: The dignity, transparency, and clarity that was offered to every single employee was very much appreciated. I felt respected, heard, and acknowledged.

Even though I work in the marketing department and the goal is to promote our services, I realized that GAIA Insights has a very different agenda: Our communication is never about pushing sales. Instead, priority is given to the quality of the writing behind every message. People, planet and purpose must be represented in all our concepts. And we are constantly encouraged to think about how we can add value to our audience.

This has been the greatest learning and influence by GAIA Insights on my perception of integrity. The core of our team dynamics are our values. Behind closed doors, without trying to impress anyone, not for a marketing campaign, not for a client call. And how can you distinguish real integrity from fake corporate values? Well, I believe who people are when nobody is looking, reflects their true character.

By the way, my answer to the above mentioned CEO interview was something like: “I cannot point a colleague to leave the team, we all need the job and I know the individual struggles of my teammates.” I refused to be part of an exercise where I had to throw someone under the bus to keep my job and I volunteered to go. Eventually, that entire team left the company and currently their staff changes every four to six months.

So after all, maybe real life is not so different from fairy tales. Something I am convinced about is that good things happen to good people. And if you cannot find a person that role models integrity to you, consider becoming that role model for others.

Authored by Ornela Cumplido, Creative Diplomat at GAIA Insights