Understanding employee integrity tests

Employee integrity tests are a useful tool for evaluating whether someone is trustworthy, dependable, and honest. Also referred to as honesty or ethics tests, organizations often utilize these assessments during pre-employment testing, but they can also be helpful for gauging the ethical decision-making of existing employees.

This guide explores employee integrity tests in close detail, looking at what they are, their importance, and some use cases. In addition, it also offers tips on carrying out this type of assessment with integrity test examples to showcase best practices.

What is an integrity test?

An integrity test is a form of personality test used to determine how trustworthy, dependable, and honest an individual is. These character evaluations often feature in pre-hire screening processes, enabling employers to gauge candidates’ tendencies towards unethical behaviors that might harm the organization.

In the context of recruitment, ethics tests help to spot early signs that a potential employee might go on to engage in practices such as:

  • Stealing from the organization or customers
  • Lying for their own gain or to cover up mistakes
  • Failing to report unethical behavior or take responsibility for their own actions
  • Cheating on work assessments (test fraud)
  • Mistreating other employees
  • Absenteeism.

Types of integrity screening

There are two main types of integrity screening: covert tests and overt tests.

Covert tests are the most common. This form of indirect assessment uses personality-based questions to determine if an individual’s character makes them predisposed towards dishonest behavior. The questions in an covert integrity test are designed to assess innate characteristics such as trustworthiness, dependability, and work ethic.

Overt tests, on the other hand, measure integrity more directly. Employers use this type of assessment to understand whether an individual would actually engage in actions that can be considered wrong or dishonest. One ironic issue with overt honesty testing is that employees may be unwilling to provide honest answers to questions about their unethical behavior.

The differences between these kinds of integrity test can be summarized as follows:

Covert integrity testingOvert integrity testing
Ask questions about an employee’s characterAsk questions about an employee’s behavior
Used to gauge whether an individual is trustworthy, dependable, and honestUsed to determine if an individual behaves in a trustworthy, dependable, and honest way
More likely to produce truthful responsesLess likely to produce truthful responses
Indirect conclusions can be made about the likelihood of an employee engaging in dishonest behaviorDirect conclusions can be made about the likelihood of an employee engaging in dishonest behavior

In reality, integrity tests can use a combination of covert and overt questions to gain a more complete picture of the individual’s character and ethical decision-making. This approach often produces the most reliable results.

The importance of employee integrity tests

The primary purpose of honesty tests is to predict the likelihood of an employee engaging in unethical actions that could be counterproductive. With this in mind, there are clear benefits in terms of helping to reduce theft, absenteeism, and other forms of dishonest behavior. Integrity tests won’t eliminate these practices altogether, but can help to limit the effect they have on the effectiveness and profitability of an organization.

As well as evaluating qualities such as trustworthiness and conscientiousness, this type of assessment determines whether or not an employee has a good work ethic. Academic research shows that the results of integrity screening are also a good predictor of overall job performance. The evidence indicates that people who score highly on these tests tend to be more productive and adjust better to their roles.

Types of employment that use integrity testing

Any sector that requires employees to be trusted to handle money, access sensitive information, or interact with vulnerable people would benefit from integrity testing.

Some examples of employment types that use honesty tests are outlined below:

SectorRequirements
EducationAny role that requires employees to safeguard children or young adults would benefit from integrity tests (including those in higher education).
Financial servicesFinance employees who handle money or confidential information relating to customer’s finances should be screened.
Professional servicesIt’s advisable for professional services organizations to screen employees who work with or have access to sensitive client data.
RetailNot all retail employees will require integrity testing, but it would be prudent to screen those who work on checkouts or handle money.
HealthcareAll healthcare employees who interact with patients should take integrity tests – this is particularly important for those caring for the vulnerable.
GovernmentIntegrity testing is standard practice for many government organizations due to the influence and access to classified information that employees have.

When should an organization use integrity screening?

There is no right or wrong time to implement integrity tests – and they have several possible applications.

The first and most obvious use case is in the process of assessing potential candidates for a job before the interview stage. Some organizations also use integrity screening as part of their approach to post-hire assessments.

Pre-employment integrity testing

In many sectors, pre-employment tests of honesty and integrity are standard practice.

By screening candidates even prior to interview, organizations can spot the signs that a prospective employee might engage in unethical or damaging behaviors. Testing at this stage can therefore help to mitigate the potential financial and reputational costs of these behaviors occurring down the line.

In keeping with the world of remote and hybrid work, these initial integrity tests can be carried out in an efficient and cost-effective way using an online assessment platform like Questionmark. Book a demo today to see how our software enables organizations to implement pre-employment screening with ease.

Integrity testing in the workplace

The requirement for honesty and integrity doesn’t end at the recruitment stage. A range of organizations around the world choose to carry out post-hire integrity testing in the workplace.

Much in the same way that employers continuously evaluate the skills of their workforce, ongoing assessments of trustworthiness and work ethic can help to identify potential issues before they become a problem. The results of the screening process can be used to inform targeted training programs that encourage more productive, ethical behaviors.

How to test integrity

In practice, testing someone’s honesty in a reliable way can be challenging as employees tend to answer in a way that presents them in a positive light. While it’s easy to see the benefits and applications of integrity testing, designing questions that elicit genuine responses about employees’ characters or behaviors is much more difficult.

Tips for creating integrity tests

Organizations can encourage employees to respond truthfully by following these six integrity test principles:

PrincipleDescription
1. Use rating scalesAsk respondents to answer questions on a rating scale rather than yes or no responses.
2. Avoid right or wrong questionsNever use questions with clearly defined right or wrong answers (e.g. ‘To what extent do you believe that theft is immoral?’).
3. Utilize reverse codingRephrase the same questions in a positive and negative way to check the consistency of responses.
4. Combine covert and overt questionsSome questions should assess characteristics such as truthfulness and dependability while others should focus more on behaviors.
5. Include some open-ended questionsInclude some open-ended questions to extract qualitative data (e.g. ‘Describe a situation where your integrity was tested’).
6. Use situational questionsAsk how employees would respond when faced with a specific situation that they’d experience in their line of work.

Carrying out fair and equal integrity screening

Another vital consideration when carrying out integrity testing is to ensure compliance with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Failing to do so could result in discrimination cases being made against the organization.

The questions should always be relevant to the employee’s work – never ask personal questions that are entirely unrelated to the business. In particular, avoid asking anything that hints at:

  • Mental health issues
  • Disabilities
  • Protected characteristics (e.g. race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, and familial status).

For further information on how to conduct employee integrity tests without discriminating against individuals, take a look at the LexisNexis guide to Personality and Integrity Tests for Hiring and Promoting Employees.

Integrity test examples

The best way to understand the kinds of questions to include is to consider some integrity test examples in action. Read on to see some of the different types of sample questions that organizations are using.

Overt questions

Remember that overt questions relate to specific actions or behaviors. These are sometimes referred to as direct questions. Some overt integrity test examples include:

  • “Taking office stationery home is stealing” – to what extent do you agree? [An example of a rating scale question]
  • “If an employee accidentally takes a pen home from work, that doesn’t really count as theft” – to what degree do you concur with this statement? [An example of a reverse-coded question]
  • “It’s important to follow a manager’s instructions without questioning them” – how far do you agree?
  • “When a manager forgets to ask for an assignment that an employee hasn’t completed on time, the employee should remind them and apologize for missing the deadline” – to what extent do you agree?
  • “I would never miss a day of work unless I was ill or otherwise unable to go” – how far do you agree?
  • “In the past, I have often taken personal calls and checked social media during work hours” – to what extent does this describe your behavior at work?

Situational questions

Similar to overt testing, situational questions ask employees to imagine themselves in a particular scenario that could arise in their role and explain how they would behave (this often takes the form of an ethical dilemma). Examples of situational questions include:

  • How would you respond if your manager shared with you some confidential personal information about another employee? [An example of an open-ended question]
  • You find out that one of your colleagues has been missing work and lying about the reason why – what do you do?
  • Would you lie to a customer if you believed it would produce the best possible outcome for the organization?
  • Describe a situation where your integrity was tested.

Covert questions

Also known as veiled-purpose questions, covert questions address aspects of the respondent’s character rather than directly asking about their behavior. Potential covert questions include:

  • How far would you agree that you like to take chances?
  • “Helping others is just as important as my own personal development” – to what extent do you agree?
  • To what extent do you believe that lying can be justified under certain circumstances?
  • “I always abide by the rules, no matter what” – how far do you agree?
  • To what extent do you agree that you are happy being told what to do?
  • “People can always rely on me to help out, regardless of what they’re asking me to do” – to what extent does this statement describe you?

How Questionmark can help

Questionmark offers an online assessment platform that’s used by organizations around the world to carry out employee integrity tests. Book a demo today to see how the software works.