Actions Speak Loudest

Integrity Equals Longevity

"Come on," you say, "my employees aren't paying such close attention, are they?" Actually, they are. For entrepreneurs faced with a 4 percent unemployment rate, character is an issue as never before. Womb-to-tomb jobs are long gone, and today's employee is expected to hold between 12 and 15 jobs over a lifetime. And as companies wrestle with retention, the personal integrity and ethics of their leaders matter more than ever before. Your employees are watching you more closely than you think. "One guy I spoke with told me that the only thing he has to go on is that his boss is honest," Mason says.

The results of a 1999 study could be a wake-up call for CEOs everywhere: According to a joint Hudson Institute/Walker Information survey of roughly 2,300 full- and part-time employees working for government, business and nonprofit organizations, more than half (53 percent) thought their company leaders lacked integrity. "We were surprised at the perceived lack of ethics in the leadership of these organizations," says Marc Drizin, Walker Information's vice president of business alliances. Even worse, only 42 percent believed their organizations deserved their loyalty, and only one in four employees was considered "truly loyal" (defined as committed to the organization and planning to stay for more than two years). The survey also revealed the things that would make these workers commit for the longer term: fairness at work, care and concern for employees, trust, and reputation of the organization. This information points to the trend that today's worker is looking for meaning in the workplace beyond money and stock options.

Salary is no longer the sole satisfier, nor the key to employee loyalty. Instead, loyalty is tied to the feelings workers get from their workplaces, and the values and ethics that are transmitted from the leadership. Just like Tom Cruise's character in the movie Jerry McGuire, employees are seeking deeper meaning and inspiration from their work, evaluating their companies' ethics and searching for their own. The new workplace compact is based on fairness and trust, on knowing that procedures are evenhanded and that leaders have character. When employees realize their organization lacks these qualities, they start planning their exit. "When you ask your employees to compromise their values, they will move on," says Anne Pasley-Stuart, a Boise, Idaho, expert on ethics in the workplace. "It may take awhile until they actually go, but they will leave eventually."

Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog,

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This article was originally published in the May 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Actions Speak Loudest.

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