Why Your Employees May Be Lying to You and How to Help Them Stop

By John Boitnott Journalist and digital consultant @jboitnott

White lies may not seem like a big deal every once in a while. Sometimes you’re just not up for an after work drink or would rather sleep in than grab brunch with coworkers the morning of a conference. However, a recent survey from SimplyHired showed these white lies add up and can point to workplace culture problems.

The report, which surveyed more than 1,000 professionals across a variety of industries, found managers are more likely to lie than entry level or associate-level employees. Approximately 37 percent of managers said they were prone to lying at least once a week. Meanwhile, 28 percent of entry-level employees and 30 percent of associate employees said they were likely to do the same.

More lies means more job dissatisfaction.

The survey also found a link between job dissatisfaction and lying at work. 41 percent of those who said they’re “not at all satisfied with their work” also said they tell, at minimum, one white lie each week. Meanwhile, those who say they’re “extremely satisfied” at work were far less likely to lie at work. Just 17 percent of those extremely satisfied employees told one lie per week.

The lies, whether you see them as harmless or not, may be symptomatic of a larger problem. Whether you’re the one who lies or you suspect your employees may be lying to you, here are a few ways you can stop lying from happening at work. 

Stop micromanaging.

48 percent of employees in the survey indicated they’d lied by saying they’d faced “traffic on my way in” in to work. 47 percent had played the “I’m working on it right now” card. 

These are things people say when they’re put on the defensive– when they’re feeling micromanaged. What does your workplace look like? Have you seen an increase in sick days, unanswered emails and fewer smiles lately? Your management style may be to blame. 

It’s one thing to have high expectations, and another to micromanage. I’ve talked to founders who say that micromanaging is not only an ineffective way to manage employees, but it drives them away and increases turnover rates. It’s stressful for employees and, as the SimplyHired survey showed, higher levels of stress lead to more lying at work.

Focus on company culture.

We spend so much of our lives at work — it shouldn’t be a difficult, stressful slog. Yes, work can be hard, but it should also be rewarding, especially if you’d rather employees tell the truth and want to reduce turnover.

There’s more to company culture than social events and team building exercises. Don’t get me wrong– a fun holiday party, regular team lunches and outings all help improve workplace satisfaction. But the core of employee satisfaction, and thus the core of honesty at work, is the way an office functions and the way the work gets done.

If employees are faking sick at increasing rates, maybe it’s because they’re overworked. Offer more scheduling flexibility or options to work from home. It shows employees you value their time and understand that they do more than just fill a seat.

Talk to workers one on one.

Go to the source if you feel you have a culture problem on your hands. Get to know employees on both a group and individual level. During one-on-one meetings, focus on more than just performance metrics. Learn how they work and what their career goals are. Maybe they’d like to work their way up in their current department, or perhaps they’re actually interested in switching roles altogether. It’s easier to stay engaged at work when you see a path forward, rather than feeling stuck. 

Ask team members how they feel. Open up to them and let them open up to you. People are less likely to lie to those they feel connection to. Offer workers a welcoming space where they can share their opinions on how you can improve company culture, what employees need to be happy, and how you can help them be more satisfied at work. You may need to use an anonymous survey for this so employees are more likely to tell the truth. Some may be afraid to speak up, which could be leading to more lies. 

Ultimately, the most important thing is that you’re willing to examine how your company culture works. If you try some of these options, you may have fewer sick days, late arrivals and white lies in your future.


The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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