Integrity and honesty: do they really matter?


Are integrity and honesty important? Do they actually mean enough that they can cause engagement, action, a change of behavior in other people? Are they a fundamental core in humans? Something that remains and is strong enough to rise above greed, corruption, narcissism, and dishonesty?


Quick bibliography: Articles–classic and recent–on the impact of integrity and honesty.

Andrews, M. C., Kacmar, K. M., & Kacmar, C. (2015). The interactive effects of behavioral integrity and procedural justice on employee job tension.Journal of Business Ethics, 126(3), 371-379. [Cited by]


“Using data collected from 280 full-time employees from a variety of organizations, this study examined the effects of employee perceptions of the behavioral integrity (BI) of their supervisors on job tension. The moderating effect of procedural justice (PJ) on this relationship also was examined. Substitutes for leadership theory (Kerr and Jermier, 1978) and psychological contract theory (Rousseau, Empl Responsib Rights J 2:121–139, 1989) were used as the theoretical foundations for the hypothesized relationships. Results indicated a negative relationship between BI and job tension [as behavioral integrity increased, job tension decreased]. PJ moderated this relationship such that it was weakened under conditions of high PJ.”


Hassan, S., Wright, B. E., & Yukl, G. (2014). Does ethical leadership matter in government? Effects on organizational commitment, absenteeism, and willingness to report ethical problems.Public Administration Review, 74(3), 333-343. [PDF] [Cited by]

“Recent ethical scandals involving managers in government organizations have highlighted the need for more research on ethical leadership in public sector organizations. To assess the consequences of ethical leadership, 161 managers in a large state government agency and 415 of their direct reports were surveyed, and personnel records were obtained to measure absenteeism. Results indicate that after controlling for the effects of employee characteristics, perceptions of procedural fairness, and supportive leader behavior, ethical leadership reduced absenteeism and had a positive influence on organizational commitment and willingness to report ethical problems. Implications of the findings and suggestions for future research are presented.”


Martin, N. D., Rigoni, D., & Vohs, K. D. (2017). Free will beliefs predict attitudes toward unethical behavior and criminal punishment.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 114(28), 7325-7330 . [PDF] [Cited by]

“Do free will beliefs [the ability to act at one’s own discretion] influence moral judgments? Answers to this question from theoretical and empirical perspectives are controversial. This study attempted to replicate past research and offer theoretical insights by analyzing World Values Survey data from residents of 46 countries (n = 65,111 persons). Corroborating experimental findings, free will beliefs predicted intolerance of unethical behaviors and support for severe criminal punishment. Further, the link between free will beliefs and intolerance of unethical behavior was moderated by variations in countries’ institutional integrity, defined as the degree to which countries had accountable, corruption-free public sectors. Free will beliefs predicted intolerance of unethical behaviors for residents of countries with high and moderate institutional integrity, but this correlation was not seen for countries with low institutional integrity. Free will beliefs predicted support for criminal punishment regardless of countries’ institutional integrity.”

Ostermaier, A., & Uhl, M. (2017). Spot on for liars! how public scrutiny influences ethical behavior.PLoS One, 12(7), e0181682. [PDF] [Cited by]


“We examine whether people are more honest in public than in private. In a laboratory experiment, we have subjects roll dice and report outcomes either in public or in private. Higher reports yield more money and lies cannot be detected. We also elicit subjects’ ethical mindsets and their expectations about others’ reports. We find that outcome-minded subjects lie less in public to conform with their expectations about others’ reports. Ironically, these expectations are false. Rule-minded subjects, in turn, do not respond to public scrutiny. These findings challenge the common faith in public scrutiny to promote ethical behavior. While public scrutiny eventually increases honesty, this effect is contingent on people’s mindsets and expectations.”

Pritchard, M. S., & Englehardt, E. E. (2017). Moral development and professional integrity.International Journal of Applied Philosophy, 31(2), 227-240.


We rely on doctors, accountants, engineers, and other professionals to be committed to the basic values of their professions and to exercise their ex­pertise in competent, reliable ways, even when no one is watching them do their work. That is, we expect them to have professional integrity. Children obviously do not yet have professional integrity, even if someday they will become professionals. Nevertheless, the moral development of children who will become professionals plays an important role in the eventual emergence of their professional integrity. We will discuss both what this integrity involves and how the basic moral development of children contributes to its emergence in professional life.”


Prottas, D. J. (2013). Relationships among employee perception of their manager’s behavioral integrity, moral distress, and employee attitudes and well-being.Journal of Business Ethics, 113(1), 51-60. [Cited by]


“Hypothesized relationships among reports by employees of moral distress, their perceptions of their manager’s behavioral integrity (BI), and employee reports of job satisfaction, stress, job engagement, turnover likelihood, absenteeism, work-to-family conflict, health, and life satisfaction were tested using data from the 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce (n = 2,679). Behavioral integrity was positively related to job satisfaction, job engagement, health, and life satisfaction and negatively [related] to stress, turnover likelihood, and work-to-family conflict, while moral distress was inversely related to those outcomes. The magnitudes of relationships with job satisfaction, job engagement, and life satisfaction were greater with BI than with moral distress. Moral distress mediated the relationships between BI and the employee outcomes, supporting the view that employee’s perceptions of their manager’s BI might influence the employee’s behaviors as well as their attitudes.”


Simons, T., Leroy, H., & Collewaert, V. (2015). How leader alignment of words and deeds affects followers: A meta-analysis of behavioral integrity research.Journal of Business Ethics, 132(4), 831-844. [Cited by]


“Substantial research examines the follower consequences of leader (mis)alignment of words and deeds, but no research has quantitatively reviewed these effects. This study examines extant research on behavioral integrity (BI) and contrasts it with two other constructs that focus on (mis)alignment: moral integrity and psychological contract breaches. We compare effect sizes between the three constructs, and find that BI [behavioral integrity] has stronger effects on trust, in-role task performance and citizenship behavior (OCB) than moral integrity and stronger effects on commitment and OCB than psychological contract breach. These stronger attitudinal consequences run counter to our initial expectations, but they provide evidence of important conceptual distinctions and mechanisms that we articulate. BI theory suggests that BI’s greater performance impact is due to the notion that BI affects communication clarity in addition to attitudes. Results of meta-analytic structural equation modeling are consistent with this proposed dual path of BI’s impact.”


For additional research on the impacts of integrity and honesty, please see the Science Primary Literature database.

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