Integrity vs honesty? This question continues to spark long discussions about whether they mean the same thing or not. The simple answer is, they absolutely do not mean the same thing. One of the quickest way to understand why my statement is true, is to ask yourself any of the following questions:
As you can see, the truth isn’t what determines if we have integrity or not. It’s much more than simply telling the truth.
What it really boils down to, are the core values that one lives their life by. In business, that can get a bit complicated since many businesses set rules and policies and then require all employees to comply with them. Granted, businesses do not, nor can they, require its employees to violate any law(s). However, there are practices that are not against the law that businesses may follow that go against your core values. What do you do, when you must decide to follow those practices, or quit? Now, that will be the time you find out if you have integrity, or not.
But wait a minute! Not quite so fast making a quick decision about quitting!
What if you have a family that depends on your paycheck for everything? After all, one of your core values should be to make sure your family is taken care of. What then?
Here’s where it gets really hard! When there is a clear difference between integrity vs honesty.
So here is a real-life example that I had, but I must say was extremely difficult, and put a terrific strain on my life.
At the time this happened, I was married with two young boys. I was the sole source of income for our family. My absolute core values are; God, Family, Country, and Employer. In that order. So, as it relates to integrity vs honesty, if I had to violate God’s law to take care of my family it would be very difficult, if not impossible for me to do so. To go further, if I had to violate God’s law or hurt my family for me to make my employer happy, it would also be extremely difficult, if not impossible to do so. Holding true to those absolute core values is having integrity.
My position at that time, about one hundred years ago (just kidding), was to make sure employees across several states received their scheduled paychecks. Just to put things into perspective, this took place during a time that direct deposit was not common. To be honest, I sometimes miss those times when you received a check in your hands, and then had to go to the bank to deposit or cash it. When stationed in Okinawa Japan while serving in the Marine Corps, we were always paid in cash.
The checks for everyone employed in the company came express mail from one location based in Washington, DC. Unfortunately, there were times when something delayed the process of getting the paychecks delivered to the facilities and passed out to the employees. The process that was to be followed when this happened, was for a Western Union Wire Transfer to occur for the total amount of the paychecks to be provided to the manager of that unit. The manager would then travel to the closest Western Union and pick up the cash and then pay each employee in cash. To say the least this was very expensive, time consuming, and allowed for mistakes to possibly happen. The more employees at a facility, the more expensive it was. The corporate office hated to do this for all those reasons.
I received a call from the manager of a very large unit with close to one hundred employees telling me that their pay checks did not arrive. I quickly called the corporate office and after some in depth research they explained that there was a glitch in the system and those checks failed to process and get sent out. I then asked for them to set up a Western Union Wire Transfer so that the employees could get paid.
Upon asking the Corporate Office to prepare a Western Union Wire Transfer they promptly told me that this would cost too much money and that I should call the unit and explain that the pay checks would be processed and sent out on the next payroll cycle, a week later. I responded that this was unacceptable. I explained that most of these employees were very low paid employees and lived pay check to pay check. By delaying their check, it could cause a lot of problems for them and their families.
Based on my core value, that it was extremely important for a person to take care of their family, I knew I had to fight for them.
By not providing these employees with their rightly earned pay check, I believed that it could potentially make it impossible for them to pay their rent on time, buy food for them and their children, pay for school lunches, fill their vehicle with gasoline, pay their utilities, etc. This was not their fault. It was our responsibility to get them paid. They fulfilled their obligation by working for us. We needed to fulfill ours.
After explaining that it could cause these employees problems if they don’t get paid today, they responded again that I needed to call the unit and explain it was not going to happen until next week.
At that time, I said I would not call the unit. The person on the other end of the line paused in disbelief. They then put me on hold to get the Corporate Department Head on the telephone. The Department Head then ordered me to call the unit and explain the issue, and tell them the checks would be delayed by one week. I again told them that it was the wrong thing to do, and I would not call them. He then asked me if I was refusing to follow his order? I told him yes. The Department Head ended the call immediately after my refusal to follow their direction.
To be honest my belly felt as though I had just committed a major infraction and I was probably going to be terminated. How would I ever explain this to my wife? What have I gone and done to us?
A few minutes later my boss came to me and asked me about the call. After explaining my version of the details, she seemed unmoved and then ordered me to make the call to the unit and explain their pay checks would delayed by one week. Without hesitation, I told her that I would not be able to do that, based on my belief it would hurt the employees and they were not responsible for the delay. I further explained that the employee’s families were counting on their paychecks, and it was not right for us to not follow through by doing the right thing. She then asked me if I was willing to be terminated over this? I told her that I didn’t want to be terminated, but I had to follow my strong belief that this was not the right thing to do those employees.
She went back into her office and closed the door. Nothing good ever happens when doors get closed. As the day went by, it felt like I had a scarlet letter across my chest and back. Other employees began whispering and looking when I moved around the large office. This went on until the Director of the Region came back later in the day from meeting they had been at. As soon as he came in, he went directly into my boss’s office, and the door went shut quickly and hard. About twenty minutes later he came out of her office and in a very firm voice directed me to follow him into his office.
At that point I felt as though I had let down my family. I had fought hard for these employees over a core value and because of it, I would in turn hurt my family. It wasn’t fair to them. I had I carried my core values way too far?
We went into his office and he shut the door behind me. His office was extremely large, and I felt helpless. Was it okay for a grown man and Marine Corps veteran, to cry like a baby? After we both sat down he looked at me and asked, “What the hell happened today? Why are you refusing to follow your boss’s direction?”
Although I was very nervous, I explained in great detail how these employees were counting on their paychecks. That most will not be able to survive another payroll cycle. That their families would be hurt also. I explained that taking care of our employees is one of our most important duties, we as managers must do. The entire reason we work is to take care of our families, and I can’t take part in hurting them.
He looked at me and asked, did you explain that to your boss? I responded yes. He then said, of course we need get them paid, and it doesn’t matter how much it cost. He said I will make a telephone call, and someone will be calling you soon to give you the Western Union Wire Transfer information. He said firmly, I agree that these employees are extremely important and must be paid. He then thanked me for looking out for our employees.
So, as you can see, when it comes to “Integrity vs Honesty”, they are not necessarily connected. Of course, they can be, but not always. It can also be nearly impossible to follow through on.
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For more information about Integrity vs Honesty check out my article on What is Integrity?