Is there such a thing as too much integrity?

High integrity organisations fulfill promises. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Processes that work. Rules applied uniformly to all. Distribution of resources and rewards done fairly. Procedures that function. Integrity within our public and private institutions means we can plan and know what to expect in our dealings. Integrity helps us manage our expectations without having to watch our backs and hunt for special connections in order to get what we need.

In the public sphere, integrity can result in many benefits from getting our passports on-time, not getting subjected to burdensome road checks or winning tenders transparently, among others. In organisations, integrity comes in the financial and operational functions of a business.

High integrity organisations give salaries on time, fulfill promises, follow labour laws, refrain from unwarranted deductions, and so on. Operationally, companies with integrity will distribute promotions equitably, hire honestly, moderate performance reviews openly, among many others benefits.

The rewards

But what happens when organisations put in place a zero tolerance policy on corruption? Most Business Daily readers would champion such policies if entities follow it up with actions. The pursuit of integrity yields real workplace rewards as well.


In Roger Mayer, James Davis, and David Schoorman’s landmark 1995 publication, they determined that humans place trust in other people at workplaces based on three factors of trustworthiness: ability, benevolence, and integrity. If employees perceive that their boss possess the ability to do their job, holds good intentions towards them with benevolence, and upholds integrity, then workers will trust their bosses and each other. Such trust then causes workers to provide higher output with more creativity that leads to substantial profit increases in firms.

But has anything changed in the last 24 years since Mayer and team’s famous results? Subsequent studies reconfirm the original findings, but recent research done at USIU-Africa found that in Kenya, Zambia, Tanzania, and Uganda, among the three trustworthiness constructs, citizens in the four countries crave integrity the most in an organisational leader comprising 76 percent of their psychological trust.

So, our favourite leaders should show their integrity with no corruption, following through on promises, and refraining from lies.

However, corruption is often thought of as worth stamping out no matter what the cost. Zero tolerance policies creating hypothetical corruption-free zones mean that even small mistakes can result in investigation, termination, and prosecution.

But is there such a thing as too much integrity? Researchers Frank Anechiarico and James Jacobs pose that when integrity expectations levels become extremely high, employees become fearful of acting because they assume that they may make an accidental mistake or human error that gets them into substantial trouble.

Zero tolerance policies on corruption and fraud make governments and organisation less efficient and suboptimal.

Human mistakes

Humans make mistakes. People do make innocent errors. Employees in a zero tolerance organisation may fear firing for filling in a form incorrectly, not obtaining enough approval signatures for a transaction regardless of the policy, harmlessly forget to disclose an immaterial external activity, or accidentally submit the wrong type of receipts for a trip.

As Kenya progresses in our fight against corruption, let us also include flexibility for normal human errors with small magnitude mistakes. A mere accident will not milk a company of Sh4 million. Such high value amounts represent high magnitudes that usually involve outright fraud. But an innocent blunder may lose a few thousand shillings that should not necessarily result in employee termination.

Organisations can implement corruption-free policies that also incorporate institutional forgiveness for human error while holding zero tolerance for high magnitude crimes. Human forgiveness for honest errors makes employees feel the organisation values them, understands them, and is benevolent towards them.

Such benevolence perceptions improve performance combined with high integrity from zero tolerance policies with small magnitude forgiveness results in optimal employee performance impacting companies’ bottom lines.