The Problem With Lying At Work

Lying at work can do a lot of damage
Lying at work can do a lot of damage
Image Credit: Cat Branchman

Life is complicated and, yes, there are times when it is inconvenient to tell the truth. It can be as simple as one of you friends asking if you like the outfit that they are wearing (you don’t) or your boss asking if that report will be done by the end of the day (it won’t). It can be very easy to “bend the edges” or tell white, gray, or even black lies when we are at work. Our manager training does not teach us how big of a deal this really is.

Just How Common Is Lying At Work?

It turns out that lying is incredibly common in the workplace: most people lie around two to four times a day. Lying begins at the application stage and ends at the exit interview, with a lot of dishonesty in between.

So why do we lie? Many of the lies we tell feel harmless. It turns out that the consequences are far from it. Dishonesty can kill healthy team dynamics, encourage manipulation and deception, and keep honest people from getting ahead. What’s more, our habit of telling lies, even little ones, is contagious. It doesn’t take long for a habit to become a norm, and a norm to become a culture. It turns out that lying at work starts before the job even begins—in the application stage. Résumé padding—inflating or simply making up accomplishments—is very common. A study found that 75% of hiring managers have caught a candidate lying on a résumé, typically about their education or qualifications, despite it being easy to fact check.

The consequences of résumé padding extend far beyond the risk of discovery. For companies, there’s the obvious risk of hiring employees who are poorly equipped for the job. Beyond that, those who were willing to risk their career and their reputation to land the job might also be willing to do the same to keep it. And in organizations where lying on a résumé to get ahead becomes standard practice, other unattractive workplace practices are likely to follow.

How can a manager use their manager skills to deal with a situation like this? Hiring managers should check résumés more carefully, including dates and education. When checking with references, they should make it clear what they hope to learn. And they should ask all references the same questions to enable clear comparisons across potential employees.

Do We Lie To Get Promoted?

Once somebody gets hired, the lies only increase—to get a raise, take credit for somebody else’s idea, and cover up mistakes, to name three of the most common. And the higher people climb in an organization, the more often they lie. One survey found that among 1,000 employees, 37% of managers tell a lie once a week or more. Most people feel that the lies they tell to get ahead at work are justified. The same survey found that lying to improve your chances to receive a raise or promotion was seen as “not at all justifiable” by only 32% of women and 23% of men. Lying to avoid being reprimanded was at least somewhat or slightly justifiable, according to 76% of women and 81% of men.

How should a manager deal with this situation? The solution isn’t to punish those who lie to get ahead, but to reward those who are honest. Shifting from an outcome-based reward structure to a process-based one is one way to remove poor competitive practices. Managers can reward team members for supporting one another. Managers who admit mistakes serve as powerful role models for others who are afraid to come forward. Together, these changes can shift the norms of an organization away from a culture of dishonesty.

What All Of This Means For You

Not telling the truth is, unfortunately, very easy to do. Many workers tend to lie at work. It can be the easiest thing to do when they find themselves in a difficult or uncomfortable situation. What most of us don’t fully understand is that when we lie, there can be a number of ramifications to our actions. This awareness is what managers need to understand.

A lot of people lie all the time while they are at work. People lie at work because they feel that it is a harmless thing to do – it won’t cause any problems. One big problem is that lying at work is contagious and it can quickly catch on. People often lie when they are applying for a job and companies do a poor job of double checking their resume to make sure that it is accurate. This can end up with the wrong person being put into the wrong job. Managers need to make sure that they check resumes and references for job candidates. People will lie to get ahead in their job. Instead of trying to punish those people who lie, managers should reward those who tell the truth.

No, we’re not going to be able to make lying in the work place go away overnight. However, what managers can do is to start to create an environment in which lying is not what people want to do. By rewarding people who are honest, we’ll show everyone that that is the way to behave. We can’t make lying go away, but we can make it become a lot less frequent.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: What should a manager do if they discover that someone is lying?

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