Integrity is Never a Part-Time Condition

Brian Gongol

Almost everyone has things they need to compartmentalize from their working lives to their home lives. Doctors, nurses, and psychiatrists can't just come home from work and violate HIPAA regulations on patient privacy just because a story was especially juicy. Many things about work need to remain at work, either for the good of the job or for the good of the family.

But a person's integrity cannot be compartmentalized.

Ross Perot has been frequently cited with a test for his own employees back in his business heyday: "If your wife can't trust you, why should I?" That may be a difficult standard to enforce evenly -- but it's not far from the truth. We still tell legends about "Honest Abe" and make myths of George Washington and the cherry tree because as a culture we understand that honesty in big things requires honesty in the little ones.

If she cheats on her golf game, or if he berates the wait staff at lunch, then those are probably fair matters to keep in mind about whether they are good counterparties, partners, or co-workers in business. The mechanic who cuts corners on repairing her own car or the accountant whom you wouldn't trust to count the collection plate at church are both signalling to you by their non-work behavior the kinds of things that likely undermine their professional performance.

The evidence of disgusting commentary shared by some members of the Border Patrol within a secret Facebook group needs to be investigated. Consequences must ensue for those who participated -- not as a matter of politics, but as a matter of professional integrity. The chief of the Border Patrol has gone on the record to say that's what is on the line: "These posts are completely inappropriate and contrary to the honor and integrity I see -- and expect -- from our agents day in and day out."

We don't shed our viewpoints when we come into the workplace -- often, that is part of the very case that human-resources departments make for recruiting from a talent pool that is diverse in viewpoints and personal backgrounds. A civil and robust interaction among these views is good for many organizations, and our ability to put aside our personal differences (even on deeply personal matters like religion or politics) is essential to making a modern economy function.

But if off-the-job expressions of views provide meaningful evidence that an individual's integrity has been compromised -- especially with regard to their ability to carry out professional obligations in a clean and honest way -- then it would be malpractice to look away.

In some cases, bad judgment is merely the result of a mistake or a momentary lapse, and we ought to be prepared to forgive. But when that bad judgment is part of a pattern, we shouldn't apologize for applying on-the-job scrutiny to how people conduct themselves even when they're off the clock.

Integrity comes from the same root as integrate: The Latin word "integer", or "whole". You cannot have integrity only in part of your life; it is either a full-time thing, or it is nothing at all.