Fiona Smith Columnist

Fiona writes on workplace issues, including management, psychology, workplace design, human resources and recruitment. She is a former Work Space editor at The Australian Financial Review and has also covered property, technology, architecture and general news.

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The seven lies most often told at work

Published 27 August 2012 04:54, Updated 27 August 2012 11:19

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The seven lies most often told at work

Companies that look after their employees probably give them fewer reasons to tell work-related fibs.

Cheryl stepped off the bus and continued our conversation.

“You know, when I have to leave work to see a school presentation, I tell my boss that I’m going out to lunch.”

“It’s a strange world”, she calls over her shoulder as we both trudge home to our families through the cold night.

Indeed. Something is seriously out of whack when it is more acceptable to take a couple of hours off for lunch than it is to see your daughter receive her class prize.

It is a lie, but dodging the truth is often the only way to survive in a corporate world that expects workers to put the company first – in conflict with social expectations that family is the top priority.

Honest people lie all the time.

According the recruitment site, 19 per cent of workers tell lies at least once a week.

Professor of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Robert S. Feldman, has studied the phenomenon of lies for 25 years.

He says even small seemingly-harmless fibs should not be encouraged.

“Those little white lies do matter. In and of themselves, white lies can produce interactions that are less intimate and personal,” he writes on his website.

“Cumulatively, they create an environment of deception that enhances the probability of larger lies being committed.”

In an organisation, the only way to stop people telling fibs is to make it safe for them to be truthful.

Many forward-thinking organisations recognise that people’s work and private lives can be out of sync, and they make allowances for it. What they receive in return is the loyalty and gratitude of their employees.

That positive attitude flows right through to employee engagement - which is crucial if people are to put their best efforts into their work.

What are the most common lies?

  1. “I’m too sick to come in”. Sometimes it is a child who is sick and needs their care, sometimes they have urgent personal business such as buying or renting a house, and sometimes they are just “over it” on that day.
    Some companies offer “mental health days” so employees can have the occasional day away, without having to make up an excuse or waste a precious day of holidays.
  2. “I didn’t get the email”. People are working harder than ever and have to duck and weave to avoid excessive workloads.
    Some employers make it OK for workers to rebalance their workloads when things get too much, rather than piling it on until there is an explosion.
  3. “It was their fault”. People lie to cover themselves when things go wrong.
    If mistakes are viewed as a learning experience, then people may be more prepared to admit their disasters. This can prevent an even worse occurrence down the track, when mistakes have been repeated and compounded.
  4. “I have a long term commitment to this job”. When people are looking for a new job, they usually have no option but to lie.
    When they turn up late, more smartly dressed than usual, they may have been to see a headhunter. They may have a job board open on their smart phone screen, but employers can invest in career planning to encourage their people to stay.
  5. “That was a work call”. Workers will call their friends and family during work hours and keep track of things on social network sites.
    However, before managers get too steamed up about this, they should take a moment to consider whether that worker donates personal time to the company.
    If work bleeds into personal time, then it is to be expected that people will need to maintain their social and family relationships during the working day.
  6. “That was my idea”. People will steal credit for each others’ work if there is a dog-eat-dog culture in the organisation.
    Good managers will talk to their direct reports all the time, so they know exactly what everyone is working on. Workers can also have “teamwork” built into their key performance indicators, so that they get rewarded for building each other up, rather than tearing others down as rivals.
  7. “I’m not interested in kids, I have a dog”. Few organisations will not discriminate against a woman who is openly planning a family.
    Until employers come to terms that some of their best people will need six to 12 months off one to three times in their careers, this is unlikely to change.Perhaps they should remember that women on maternity leave may come back. Men who leave will probably go for good and will use all their skills and experiences to the benefit of a competitor company.