Keep 'Em Honest: How to Prevent Lying in the Workplace

Let’s face it. Telling the truth isn’t always easy.

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It can be uncomfortable and scary when it comes to certain situations at work. In fact, lying on the job is pretty common these days, according to a recent poll by my firm, Dulye & Co. Participants reported that the prevalence of lying has increased over the past five years, and among the biggest factors driving employees to dodge the truth are fear of reprisal and leadership behavior.

The worst lies recalled by my select survey group delivered big personal blows, like loss of reputation, a job or even worse.

“I think the worst lie is that my job is safe.” (given today’s economy, this response was echoed by many)

“A manager telling you that they stand for your success, when all other actions show they care more about their own success than yours.”

“The worst lie would be one that discredits a fellow employee or places their employment in jeopardy."

And then there was this eye-opening comment from a former military leader: “The worst lie would be one where I made a decision based upon false or incomplete information given to me that results in someone’s death or injury.”

Others cited lies that bring down an entire team, such as “the fabrication of the status of a project or opportunity, which directly reflects revenue forecasts,” one global sales executive noted. Equally daunting were lies that sever customer ties. As one small business owner explained “the worst lie would be one of omission, rather than commission. As a manager, there’s nothing worse than being blindsided by an unhappy client or a project that has spun out of control.”

Lies, regardless of size, scope or subject matter, shred on-the-job relationships. The good news is there are several ways of preventing this from happening.

Here are six tips to build a workplace where truth can reign:

No. 1: It starts at the top. Bosses, managers and anyone in a leadership role need to create honest dialogue. Good and bad news should be communication staples. A solution that my firm brought to a client was for managers to use a two-column template marked “what’s going well” and “what’s not going well” to guide team meetings. Surfacing the latter topic opened the door to brainstorming and collaboration, as well as honest discussion of setbacks and mistakes.

No. 2: Publicly praise. Verbally and positively recognize others at the time they provide meaningful counter views, particularly when the information and insight directly affects decision making. If team members see and hear that it is truly safe to speak up—particularly with a contrasting opinion or bad news – they will.

No. 3: Expect and enforce accountability. One former operations director put it this way: “Let employees know that (lying) is a non-negotiable character trait in the office, and hold people accountable to it. Too many leaders fall into a very pragmatic view of ‘Well, it didn't hurt anyone’ or ‘We all lie at times.’  Not the point. Be known for speaking the truth.”

No. 4: Show that you care. A recent study at Google revealed that employees there most value managers who listen and care – and this is at a company where free meals, on-site haircuts, dry cleaning, massages and other perks are offered on a daily basis. Employees appreciated leaders who took a personal interest in their lives and careers, as well as those who made time for one-on-one meetings.

No. 5: Talk about lessons learned. Back in the day when I worked at GE we had a routine practice of discussing lessons learned from on-the-job mistakes and lost business. It was invaluable for keeping communication lines open—vertically and horizontally—and it improved how we worked together.

No. 6: Engage the whole team. Don’t do for the group what the group should do for itself. In this case, let team members create the norms and values for communicating and collaborating with each other as well as consequences for breaking them. Give an ownership stake and accountability will follow.

Click here to tell your story and take our quick poll on lying in the workplace.

Linda Dulye is internationally recognized for helping many companies go spectator free. A former communications leader for GE and Allied Signal, Linda founded Dulye & Co.   in 1998 with a practical, process-driven approach for improving communications and collaboration through an engaged workforce— a formidable competitive advantage, that she calls a Spectator-Free Workplace™.