Fines.  Loss of share value.  Firings.  Public shame. 

Everyone knows the financial and reputational costs of a low-trust environment where integrity, proper conduct and ethical behavior aren’t at the forefront of an organization.  But most people don’t think about the emotional toll such an environment creates, nor do they realize the tremendous benefits that a high-trust and ethical environment can instill.

Acting unethically has a strong effect on most people’s emotional and physical life.  Unethical behavior leads people to report feelings of heightened stress and anxiety.  Fear of getting caught, or of being found out, can cause people to distance themselves from co-workers, friends and family. 

The good news is that the opposite is true for organizations and individuals who choose to act with integrity and who perceive their organization to be committed to its values.  Studies in Steven Covey’s book, The Speed of Trust, found that organizations that are perceived to act with integrity materially improve:

It’s not just organizations that benefit from high-trust environments where ethics and integrity are paramount.  The same studies found that individuals in such environments significantly experience heightened:

While it’s easy to focus on the negatives of an unethical environment, sometimes it is more effective and productive to focus on the benefits that an ethical environment can create for you and your company when simple ethical principles are relied upon. 

How do you increase your own integrity?  You can begin by relying on the so-called “Grandma test” to determine if an action is the right one to take.  The “Grandma test” asks you to imagine describing the action you’re taking to your grandmother.  Would she understand it?  Would she be proud of you?  Could you tell her you did it without feeling ashamed?

A variation of this is the New York Times test.  Imagine the action you’re taking is on the front page of the New York Times.  Are you embarrassed?  Do you wish you hadn’t done it? 

By listening to your inner voice and thinking through these types of tests, you can discern the best action to take.  And by acting with integrity and ethics, you not only improve your own mental and emotional health, but you enhance the experience others have of the culture of your company.  And that is worth its weight in gold (or Dollars, Yen, Euros etc.…).