The Lies That Managers Tell At Work

When we tell lies, who are we really hurting?
When we tell lies, who are we really hurting? Image Credit: carnagenyc

Just exactly how important is honesty to you? If you are like most of us, you want the people that you interact with to be honest with you. However, the other way around may not go the same way. Do you ever tell a lie? I’m willing to bet that the answer to this question is yes. Now the only follow up question is how often? If you are like most of us, you have no problems lying about the small stuff (“Do I look fat to you?”, “Do you like this outfit?”) but do we lie about things that are a bigger deal also?

The Value Of Honesty

Let’s face it, most of us believe that everyday interactions are marked by honest conversations. We do understand that people lie, but we don’t think that they lie to us. At work, we reserve our harshest social punishments – humiliation, exclusion and a loss of status – for those people who tell big lies. Yet despite our supposed moral objections to dishonesty, lying turns out to be incredibly commonplace. It has been discovered that most people lie around two to four times a day. Managers need to understand that the workplace is no exception. Lying at work begins at the application stage and ends at the exit interview, with a great deal of dishonesty in between.

Many of the lies we tell may feel harmless. However, the consequences are far from it. Managers need to understand that dishonesty can kill healthy team dynamics, encourage manipulation and deception, and keep honest people from getting ahead. Just to make things worse, the habit of telling lies, even little ones, is contagious. Once started it doesn’t take long for a habit to become a norm, and a norm to become a culture.

As a manager you need to realize that lying at work starts before the job even begins – in the application stage. I think that we all know that résumé padding – inflating or simply making up accomplishments – is surprisingly common. A study has been done that found that 75% of managers have caught a candidate lying on a résumé, typically about their education or qualifications, despite it being easy to fact check. We need to understand that résumé padders aren’t limited by status; entry-level employees and aspiring CEOs alike pad their résumés. It turns out that the consequences of résumé padding extend far beyond the risk of discovery. For managers, there’s the obvious risk of hiring employees who are ill-equipped for the job. Beyond that, managers know that those who were willing to risk their career and their reputation to land the job might also be willing to do so to keep it. If you work for an organization where lying on a résumé to get ahead becomes standard practice, other unsavory workplace practices are likely to follow.

Little Lies Turn Into Big Lies

How can managers deal with candidates that lie when applying for a position? The solution is simple: managers should check résumés more carefully, including dates and education. When checking a resume that has references, they should make it clear what they hope to learn. They should ask all references the same set of questions to enable clear comparisons across potential employees.

Once somebody gets inside an organization, the lies may only increase. People lie to get a raise, take credit for somebody else’s idea or to cover up mistakes. These are just three of the most common reasons that people lie at work. It turns out that the higher people climb in an organization, the more often they lie. A survey found that among 1,000 employees, 37% of managers tell a lie once a week or more. Most managers feel that the lies they tell to get ahead at work are justified. The same survey revealed 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. People felt that lying to avoid being reprimanded was at least somewhat or slightly justifiable, according to 76% of women and 81% of men.

So how is a manager supposed to deal with all of this lying? One solution isn’t necessarily to punish those who lie to get ahead, but to reward those who are honest. If you can shift from an outcome-based reward structure to a process-based one is one way to remove dirty 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 types of changes can shift the norms of an organization away from a culture of dishonesty.

What All Of This Means For You

When a manager interacts with someone in the workplace, they have some assumptions about how that person is going to treat them. One of the most basic of these assumptions is that we believe that people are not going to lie to us. However, it turns out that in the real world this might not be the case. As managers we need to understand that people do lie and we need to be prepared to deal with this situation.

It turns out that just about everyone lies. Their lies may be small lies or big lies, but everyone seems to be lying about something. The problem with this is that even if lies start out small, they can build and eventually turn into big lies. It turns out that a lot of people start their workplace lying when they are applying for a job. It does not matter if they are entry level or senior management – people lie when applying for jobs. As a manager, we need to do a better job of checking resumes. Once hired, people tend to tell more lies in order to get ahead. As mangers, we can help to stop this by rewarding team members who don’t lie.

All these things will help people to start with honesty and continue on the same path. When people feel comfortable being honest about the problems they face during their jobs, and they have a strong network to buffer them from a potential reputation-thrashing ex-boss, they are more likely to be honest with you about their skills and experiences.

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

Question For You: What should a manager do if they catch a team member lying?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As managers, we all have our good days and our bad day. I’m pretty sure that if we were in charge of things, we’d all like to have more good days than bad days. However, in the end we have to put up with a mix of both. However, studies are starting to show that our bad days may not be all that bad. Research shows that our judgment is surprisingly dependent on our mood. A result of this is that being in a bad mood may have a silver lining.