Risks to integrity arise in various ways. Integrity breaches are more likely to occur where there is a poor workplace culture; substandard administrative and risk management processes; unclear policies and procedures; ignorance of legal and ethical obligations; and/or failures in accountability systems.
But integrity is not just about protecting our agencies from criminal infiltration, or protecting the physical and strategic assets of our agencies. Risks to integrity may be the result of a careless act, or even an act that was well-intentioned but ill-judged.
As managers we have a role to play in ensuring that our agencies have strong reputations for doing the right thing, in the right way. This requires managers to think broadly about what risks their agencies face.
6.1 Common integrity risks
Reducing the incidence of criminal breaches of integrity is important. As managers, we need to be aware of, and put in place, mitigation strategies to deal with risks of this kind.
But we should also be thinking more broadly. An employee may be upset by a recent staffing decision and therefore become unproductive or think about leaking damaging information. This may be a risk to integrity too.
6.2 Motivating factors
There's no single, exhaustive list of the factors that may motivate an employee to behave badly. Research shows, however, that factors can include:
- following a negative incident such as a workplace dispute, demotion or termination of employment
- seeking financial gain
- experiencing high levels of personal debt
- pursuing own business interests
- affected by organisational change
- dissatisfaction with organisational policies
- resentment due to unmet career expectations
- lack of promotion opportunities
- change leading to diminished or unfair responsibilities
- imposition of sanctions for previous misconduct
- being offered or not offered a redundancy package
- manipulation by others, including blackmail
- social and familial pressures
- misplaced loyalties
- poor relationship with manager
- poor relationships with co-workers
- family relationship breakdown
- criminal associations
- political ideology
- drug and alcohol abuse or dependency
- addictive or compulsive behaviours such as gambling
- risk-taking behaviour
While factors of this kind may explain, or even help to predict, behaviour that challenges integrity within an agency, they do not excuse such behaviour.
6.3 Red flags
An employee's personal circumstances, lifestyle and individual vulnerabilities are often relevant when identifying potential areas of risk related to deliberate misconduct. Some workplace behaviours are of particular interest and may be predictive of future behaviour, if observed on a regular basis or without reasonable explanation.
Warning signs that might indicate an individual has become an integrity risk include:
- Signs of a financial windfall—living beyond demonstrated means, such as buying expensive items.
- Indications that they are associating with criminal entities or taking illicit drugs.
- Changed attendance patterns—a sudden change of working hours or attendance at work, absenteeism, or tardiness.
- A reduction in performance—difficulty meeting deadlines, distraction, poor decision-making, difficulty remaining focussed on work-related tasks.
- Inappropriate social behaviour—conflict with co-workers, bullying, lack of empathy, argumentativeness, abrasiveness, domineering or offensive behaviour.
- Difficulty conforming to workplace rules and expectations.
- Displays of addictive behaviour such as drug and alcohol misuse, or problem gambling.
- Responding inappropriately to constructive criticism.
- Displaying an undue sense of entitlement, seeking preferential treatment.
- Working during leave or outside hours when not clearly needed.
- Complaints being lodged about them, including bullying and harassment.
- Misuse of agency resources—such as misusing cabcharges or credit cards, accessing databases not related to duties, extensive use of photocopiers or printers, inappropriate use of ICT systems, failure to return equipment.
- Engaging in reckless or impulsive behaviour.
- Threatening or engaging in retaliatory behaviour against others.
- Making humiliating, insulting or harassing remarks about others.
A red flag does not necessarily mean that an employee is actually compromising the integrity of the agency, although some of the actions listed above would be a breach of the Code of Conduct in their own right. These behaviours may only indicate that managers should be more conscious of the actions of the employee and perhaps intervene to establish whether work-related factors are driving the behaviour. Managers should be on the lookout for patterns of behaviour that indicate an employee might be becoming a substantial integrity risk.
In many cases the best approach to dealing with an issue will be to offer the employee support through a difficult period. If the behaviour is identified early, counselling, perhaps with the assistance of an agency's Employee Assistance Program, will often be sufficient to deal with the issue.
Chapter 3 of the Attorney-General's Department guide Identifying and managing people of security concern also describes personality traits, lifestyle and circumstantial vulnerabilities, and workplace behaviours that may give rise to potential areas of concern.
The Australian Government Security Vetting Agency (AGSVA) guide Ongoing Personnel Security Management—Aftercare indicates when it might be appropriate to advise AGSVA of changed circumstances which might lead to a security concern.
A toxic team culture
While the behaviour of an individual employee may indicate a potential integrity risk, local workplace cultures can also develop within teams that represent a potential risk.
The characteristics of such a team often include:
- the team is geographically isolated from the larger organisation, for example they undertake field work or work unsociable hours
- the team socialises together extensively and team members are very loyal to each other
- there is tolerance of rule breaking and poor behaviour, some of which is relatively minor—practical jokes, unprofessional language, sexualised behaviour
- team leaders may be complicit and there is not sufficient oversight from senior managers.
The first indicator of a broader integrity problem may be an allegation of sexual harassment or bullying which is difficult to investigate because team members act to protect each other. However, a culture of rule breaking rather than high professional standards, and a primary loyalty to colleagues rather than the employer, can create circumstances where corruption is tolerated and overlooked.