Tag Archives: Integrity

Tired workers lose their ethics

Having recently suffered a week of extreme temperatures and sleepless nights in Melbourne, with more to come, everyone is aware of some of the effects of sleep deprivation including short tempers, the loss of concentration and the reduction in some fine motor skills. In short, tired people are more grumpy, absent minded and clumsy than normal and new research suggests that they are more likely to cheat!

The underlying cause is the same; the lack of sleep reduces the amount of glucose in the prefrontal cortex and only adequate amounts of sleep can restore it. Physiologically, self-control occurs largely in the pre-frontal cortex region of the human brain, and uses glucose as a fuel. The act of implementing self-control draws upon this fuel, and can eventually exhaust the fuel causing one’s ability to exert self-control to reduce. And when self-control is depleted, people are more likely to cave in to temptations to behave badly or unethically. Start with the fuel in short supply due to lack of sleep and self-control dissipates sooner.

This has important business and team management implications. Ethics are central to the ‘good governance’  of an organisation and an important management concern; ethical behaviour will boost the reputation and performance of the organisation, whereas unethical behaviours can damage it significantly. And lack of sleep affects everyone, not just ‘bad’ people. Whilst it is common view that good people do good things and bad people do bad things, the behavioural ethics literature indicates that this is simply not the case; everyone has the capacity for both ethical and unethical behaviour and the balance is affected by how tired they are.

restless2In both laboratory and field contexts, Christopher M. Barnes and his team found that a lack of sleep led to higher levels of unethical behaviour. Moreover, they found that it was small amounts of lost sleep that produced noticeable effects on unethical behaviour. In one of their laboratory studies there was a difference of only about 22 minutes of sleep between those who cheated and those who did not. In their field studies, they found naturally occurring variation in sleep (with most nights ranging from 6.5-8.5 hours of sleep) was sufficient to predict unethical behaviour at work the next day.

Executives and managers should keep this in mind – the more they push employees to work late, come to the office early, and use their smartphones to answer emails and calls at all hours, the more they invite unethical behaviour to creep in. Ethics is defined as ‘doing the right thing even when no-one is looking!’ Particularly the small things needed to ensure a job is done properly and necessary procedures followed, and it only needs one check or test to be omitted or short-cut at the wrong time to open the potential for a crisis.

Smartphones are as bad as a heatwave!! They are almost perfectly designed to disrupt sleep by keeping us mentally engaged with work late into the evening. The problems caused by using these phones late at night include:

  • they make it harder to psychologically detach from the most pressing cares of the day so that we can relax and fall asleep;
  • they encourage poor sleep hygiene, a set of behaviours that make it harder to both fall asleep and stay asleep; and
  • perhaps the most difficult aspect to avoid is that they expose us to light, including blue light. Even small amounts of blue light inhibit the sleep-promoting chemical melatonin, and the displays of smartphones are capable of producing this effect.

One solution suggested by Harvard Professor Leslie Perlow, is improved ‘sleep hygiene’. Sleep hygiene refers to the pattern of behaviours associated with sleep. There are patterns of behaviour that are conducive to sleep, and other patterns that make it much more difficult. With some relatively simple steps, you can improve your own sleep hygiene, making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep:

  1. Create agreed predictable time off. The best way to start is for management and the team to agree that evenings and normal sleeping hours are the most important times for people to be predictably off. This will allow employees to psychologically disengage from work and minimize exposure to the blue light produced by electronic display screens.
  2. Consistent bedtimes. Your body has a circadian system that functions as a 24-hour clock, regulating processes such as body temperature and heart rate. An important part of that circadian system is the production of melatonin. Melatonin is a chemical that your body uses internally to promote the process of falling asleep. But changing your bedtimes is disruptive to this process. You should enable your circadian system to work smoothly by going to bed at the same time every night (preferably an early enough bedtime to get a sufficient amount of sleep).
  3. No television, laptops, tablets, or smartphones in bed. You may think that watching television in bed is a good way to relax. But physiologically, the light exposure associated with these activities inhibits melatonin production. This is true for any light, but especially blue wavelength light that is common in these devices, and especially when the source of light is so close to you. It’s good policy to stop using any of these devices a few hours before bedtime. But at the very least, do not use them in bed.
  4. No activity in bed other than sleep and sex. Think of Pavlov’s dogs. By pairing one stimulus with another, he created an association between meat powder and a bell that was so strong that the dogs began to salivate when they heard a bell even if meat powder was not present. You want to take a similar approach to your bed and sleep. Strengthen that association as much as you can by pairing your bed with sleep, but not with other activities.
  5. No stimulants within a few hours of bedtime. Physiological arousal and sympathetic nervous system activation oppose the process of falling asleep. Any substance that has stimulant properties should be avoided before bedtime. Nicotine and caffeine are two common such substances. Everyone knows that caffeine makes it difficult to fall asleep. But not everyone knows that caffeine has a metabolic half-life of several hours (typically at least five hours, and sometimes more). So if you plan to go to bed at 10:30, coffee with or after dinner is generally a bad idea. Nicotine persists in the body for a shorter period of time than caffeine, but still has a half-life of a few hours.
  6. Exercise, but not within a few hours of bedtime. Exercise has many beneficial effects on human health. Regular exercise can be helpful in regulating sleep. However, research indicates that it depends on the amount of time between exercise and sleep. One study in particular shows that because exercise is physiologically arousing, it makes you less likely to fall asleep in the very near term, but more likely to fall asleep later. So develop a pattern of exercising, but not late at night.

By following these steps, you can improve your sleep hygiene which will make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep, Good sleep hygiene is not a fix-all panacea, but the research data indicates that is will certainly help.

And because leaders help to set norms by modelling behaviours, my recommendation is to prioritise sleep in your own life, while encouraging your team to do the same. Do what you can to support employees’ sleep health rather than disrupt it. The better rested we all are, the more effective we will be at work supported by more ethical and considerate behaviours.

These ideas can help with office induced disruptions to sleep. Now all we need is a way to avoid the next heatwave.

The origins of Integrity

Lynda’s last post, Integrity is the key to delivering bad news successfully reminded me of a speech reported by a colleague, Bill Stewart of PMLG, Atlanta, USA several years ago on the origins of ‘integrity’.

The speech was given by The following speech was given by Marine General Charles C. Krulak at a leadership and ethics conference Scope 2000 on January 27, 2000:

We study and we discuss ethical principles because it serves to strengthen and validate our own inner value system … It gives direction to what I call our moral compass. It is the understanding of ethics that becomes the foundation upon which we can deliberately commit to inviolate principles. It becomes the basis of what we are … Of what we include in our character. Based on it, we commit to doing what is right. We expect such commitment from our leaders. But most importantly, we must demand it of ourselves.

Sound morals and ethical behavior cannot be established or created in a day … A semester … Or a year. They must be institutionalized within our character over time … They must become a way of life. They go beyond our individual services and beyond our ranks or positions; they cut to the heart and to the soul of who we are and what we are and what we must be … Men and women of character.

They arm us for the challenges to come and they impart to us a sense of wholeness. They unite us in the calling we now know as the profession of arms.

Of all the moral and ethical guideposts that we have been brought up to recognize, the one that, for me, stands above the rest … The one that I have kept in the forefront of my mind …is integrity. It is my ethical and personal touchstone.

Integrity as we know it today stands for soundness of moral principle and character – uprightness – honesty. Yet there is more. Integrity is also an ideal … A goal to strive for … And for a man or woman to “walk in their integrity” is to require constant discipline and usage. The word integrity itself is a martial word that comes to us from an ancient Roman army tradition.

During the time of the 12 Caesars, the Roman army would conduct morning inspections. As the inspecting Centurion would come in front of each legionnaire, the soldier would strike with his right fist the armor breastplate that covered his heart. The armor had to be strongest there in order to protect the heart from the sword thrusts and from arrow strikes. As the soldier struck his armor, he would shout “integritas”, (in-teg-ri-tas) which in Latin means material wholeness, completeness, and entirety. The inspecting Centurion would listen closely for this affirmation and also for the ring that well kept armor would give off. Satisfied that the armor was sound and that the soldier beneath it was protected, he would then move on to the next man.

At about the same time, the Praetorians or imperial bodyguard were ascending into power and influence. Drawn from the best “politically correct” soldiers of the legions, they received the finest equipment and armor. They no longer had to shout “integritas” to signify that their armor was sound. Instead, as they struck their breastplate, they would shout “hail Caesar” to signify that their heart belonged to the imperial personage – not to their unit – not to an institution – not to a code of ideals. They armored themselves to serve the cause of a single man.

A century passed and the rift between the legion and the imperial bodyguard and its excesses grew larger. To signify the difference between the two organizations, the Legionnaire, upon striking his armor would no longer shout “integritas”, but instead would shout “integer” (in-te-ger).

Integer means undiminished – complete – perfect. It not only indicated that the armor was sound, it also indicated that the soldier wearing the armor was sound of character. He was complete in his integrity … His heart was in the right place … His standards and morals were high. He was not associated with the immoral conduct that was rapidly becoming the signature of the praetorian guards.

The armor of integrity continued to serve the legion well. For over four centuries they held the line against the marauding Goths and vandals but by 383 AD, the social decline that infected the republic and the praetorian guard had its effects upon the legion.

As a 4th century Roman general wrote, “When, because of negligence and laziness, parade ground drills were abandoned, the customary armor began to feel heavy since the soldiers rarely, if ever, wore it. Therefore, they first asked the emperor to set aside the breastplates and mail and then the helmets. So our soldiers fought the Goths without any protection for the heart and head and were often beaten by archers”. Although there were many disasters, which lead to the loss of great cities, no one tried to restore the armor to the infantry. They took their armor off, and when the armor came off – so too came their  integrity it was only a matter of a few years until the legion rotted from within and was unable to hold the frontiers…the barbarians were at the gates.

Integrity … It is a combination of the words, “integritas” and “integer”. It refers to the putting on of armor, of building a completeness … A wholeness … A wholeness in character. How appropriate that the word integrity is a derivative of two words describing the character of a member of the profession of arms.

The military has a tradition of producing great leaders that possess the highest ethical standards and integrity. It produces men and women of character … Character that allows them to deal ethically with the challenges of today and to make conscious decisions about how they will approach tomorrow. However, as I mentioned earlier, this is not done instantly. It requires that integrity becomes a way of life … It must be woven into the very fabric of our soul. Just as was true in the days of Imperial Rome, you either walk in your integrity daily, or you take off the armor of the “integer” (in-te-ger) and leave your heart and soul exposed… Open to attack.

My challenge to you is simple but often very difficult … Wear your armor of integrity … Take full measure of its weight … Find comfort in its protection … Do not become lax. And always, always, remember that no one can take your integrity from you … You and only you can give it away!

The biblical book of practical ethics – better known as the book of proverbs – sums it up very nicely: “the integrity of the upright shall guide them: but the perverseness of transgressors shall destroy them”. (Proverbs 11:3 KJV)

Thank you.

Too often in the decade since the speech was given, we have experienced the fallout of leaders taking the “easy wrong” instead of the “hard correct” option.

As project, program, and portfolio leaders, we are responsible for the successful implementation of projects and programs that deliver our organization’s strategic vision. And to help ensure success, we apply practical and proven process that mitigates the risk of failure. Yet, each of us have experienced or continue to experience situations where we are asked to dump process.

Suggestions such as ‘Lets skip planning since we are already behind schedule’ or  or ‘Let me give you status when something goes wrong instead of doing a weekly reports’ are examples of requests to take the easy wrong, instead of the hard correct option.

Embracing and demonstrating the moral principal and honesty to consistently and unwaveringly doing the right thing for your organization is the embodiment of integrity and importantly is the underpinning of effective governance. Other research also based on the US military demonstrated that ethics is a ‘top down’ system – people lower in the hierarchy are unlikely to have better ethics than those above, integrity is likely to follow a similar pattern, the baseline standard is set at the top and will have a tendency to deteriorate as you move down the hierarchy.  This is a challenge for all of us.