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The Disraeli Room

The Disraeli Room

Blog Post

The revival of professional integrity

2nd July 2015

 

In the late 1990s, Solomon commented:  ‘”Integrity” is a word like “honor” – its close kin – that sometimes seems all but archaic in the modern business world’ (Solomon, 1997, p. 215). Insofar as many of the values and practices of the business world were increasingly prevalent in the public and voluntary sector at this time, Solomon’s reflections might equally have characterised the world of public services. If we take integrity in professional life to relate to consistently living up to a set of deeply-held values that partly constitute the identity of the professional, then many features of the organisational and societal climate of the 1990s, which still persist troday,  seem to make integrity impossible, and indeed undesirable, including:

  • Fragmentation of roles and identities  –  job roles are increasingly specialised, focussing on completing required tasks rather than paying attention to the overall picture and societal impact.  (Parts rather than wholes)
  • Regulation of professional work – the increasing use of pre-defined proformas, procedures and targets reduces the space for professional judgement and may encourage uncritical conformity with required standards. (Surface rather than depth)
  • Outcomes – there is a focus more on the ends achieved and less on the means used to achieve them. (Ends rather than means)
  • Competitiveness –there is a tendency to concentrate on people’s own or their group’s interests or projects, with a concern for efficiency, value for money or profit. (Individual/group rather than public good)

While these features of organisations and professions are increasingly implicated in undermining the fabric of social and economic life, they nevertheless persist.  Arguably austerity measures introduced in the UK public sector following the financial crisis have intensified many aspects of managerialism (following procedures, reaching targets and measuring outcomes) and marketization (efficiency, profit and competition).   However, at the same time, integrity in professional and public life is being called for and increasingly valued. In addition to major scandals in public services, such as fraudulent expense claims of UK Members of Parliament and uncovering of widespread sexual abuse in public institutions, the 2008 economic crisis fuelled major mistrust in the financial services field.  ‘Integrity’ and ‘professional integrity’ are featuring more frequently in public discourse and in professional statements of values and codes of ethics. In the business world, for example, the website of the financial services firm Deloitte has a prominent section entitled ‘ethics and integrity’, which makes the following claim:

Integrity and ethical behavior are both core aspects of Deloitte culture. They guide our people in making business decisions, in the actions they take, and in the way they treat their clients and each other. (Deloitte, 2014)

This represents an attempt to reinvigorate (rhetorically at least) the holistic model of professionals as trustworthy, honest and reliable in the context of declining public trust, particularly in the wake of the financial crisis. Similar trends are apparent in the field of public services.  For example, in the latest code of ethics of the British Association of Social Workers (2012), ‘professional integrity’ was added alongside human rights and social justice as one of three core values of the profession. The value is described as follows:

Social workers have a responsibility to respect and uphold the values and principles of the profession and act in a reliable, honest and trustworthy manner. (British Association of Social Workers, 2012, p. 10)

A re-emphasis on professional integrity, particularly by professional bodies, can also be regarded as part of a move to counter-balance the discourse of managerialism  and marketisation,  reasserting a discourse of moral agency, independent professional judgement and humane, caring practice. Yet in the current climate of welfare reform (cut-backs in welfare benefits and services) it can also be seen as a move to shift responsibility for fairness and respectfulness in delivery of inadequate services onto professional practitioners, and away from the state and welfare organisations. In a climate where professional integrity is harder to achieve, it is increasingly demanded. This is resulting in both a weakening of the concept of professional integrity and increasing moral distress on the part of professionals.

 

 

British Association of Social Workers (2012) The Code of Ethics for Social Work: Statement of Principles, Birmingham, British Association of Social Workers, http://cdn.basw.co.uk/upload/basw_112315-7.pdf, accessed 30.11.14

Deloitte (2014) ‘Ethics and Integrity’, http://www.deloitte.com/view/en_RU/ru/about-deloitte/ethics-integrity/index.htm, accessed 30.11.14.

Solomon, R. (1997) ‘Corporate Roles, Personal Virtues: An Aristotelian Approach’, in Statman, D. (ed), Virtue Ethics: A Critical Reader, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press.


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