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5 Lies You Probably Tell at Work (and Why You Tell Them)

Topics: Career Advice
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Lying at work is more common than you might expect. But that doesn’t mean that it’s good for your career — or that it’s your only option for dealing with difficult conversations.

In general, people lie a lot. According to one study, 60% of people told at least one lie during a 10-minute conversation. Those who fibbed did so an average of two or three times.

Why do we lie? Other research suggests that we do so when we can rationalize being less than truthful, when we perceive others as lying or when we’re stressed out. Given those conditions, it’s not so surprising that lying at work is pretty common.

Lying at work: Bosses Do It the Most

A study, which was conducted by SimplyHired, found that folks lie pretty often at work regardless of their position. Among the 1,010 full-time salaried employees surveyed, supervisors admitted to lying at work the most. Thirty-seven percent of supervisors said they lie at work at least once a week. And, 41% of entry-level workers and 36% of associates said they lied once every few months or less.

Per SimplyHired:

Even though we all lie, we tend to direct these untruths at different people based on our level of management. Those in lower levels of power said they were more likely to lie to their supervisors than co-workers at the same level, but people in the middle tended to spread their fibs to co-workers and bosses at about 40% each. Interestingly, managers were inclined to lie nearly evenly to all three levels of power.

Psychology Today calls this practice prosocial lying and says our circumstance fuels motivation for doing so. We can tell trivial lies to those we see at work for selfish gain or to assuage hurt feelings.

5 lies you might be telling at work 

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1. Being agreeable when you really disagree

Do you ever nod along when you disagree with a coworker’s opinion, just because it’s easier? Maybe you feel like your perspective wouldn’t be welcome, or you’re tired and it seems less exhausting to just let it go and not make waves. Or, maybe you’re feeling a bit intimidated and it’s tough to speak up and go against the crowd.

Not speaking your mind isn’t exactly lying, it’s just not telling the whole truth. When it comes to deciding whether to speak up or go along, it’s best to decide on a case-by-case basis. It can feel difficult to go against the grain. And of course, you don’t want to be disagreeable so often that you develop a reputation for it. However, it’s also important to speak your mind and share your opinions at work. Otherwise, you risk blending in so much that there’s nothing that distinguishes you and makes you stand out.

Plus, it’s important to be yourself at work for your own sake. It helps to prevent burnout and it just makes for a more pleasant experience. So, think about whether or not it’s a good idea to hold back carefully. And, don’t overdo it.

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2. Lying about credentials

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Lying about your past work or educational history isn’t just one of the most dangerous lies you can tell at work. It’s also one of the worst career moves you can make in general. It’s never a good idea to lie about your credentials. It might even be against the law in some cases. So, it’s always a good idea to be honest and truthful during every stage of the job search process.

If you need more motivation to stick to the truth on your job application, spend a few minutes perusing these stories of folks who got caught.

3. Taking time off that you don’t technically “need”

At some point in your life, you’ve probably lied about being sick, or having some other obligation, in order to get out of something at work. Maybe you called in sick when you were really just feeling tired. Or, perhaps you said that you’d already committed to family obligations in order to get out of working overtime.

These kinds of white lies, as they’re often called, are really quite common. The SimplyHired study found that 60% of employees have lied about not feeling well at work, making it one of the most commonly told lies.

Is fibbing about being ill to get time off really so bad? In one way, it makes sense. Few employers offer official mental health days and many are less than flexible about unscheduled time off. But the real problem is that you might get caught. If you do decide to roll the dice on a fake sick day, make sure you don’t spend your time off in ways and places where you might be seen. That means staying off social media and away from that restaurant where all your coworkers go to lunch.

4. Blaming the other guy

It’s embarrassing to make a mistake at work. Sometimes, it can even get you fired. So, it’s not a surprise if you might be tempted to lie or make excuses when you mess up. You might say that you weren’t given the instructions clearly or correctly. Or, you might say that someone else dropped the ball on their end of the project and that made your side of the equation impossible to complete.

However, it’s better to take responsibility for your part when you make a mistake at work rather than blaming someone else. It might help to first admit to yourself that mistakes are, in fact, a part of life. As Hall of Fame NCAA basketball coach John Wooden once said, “if you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything.”

Accepting that everyone makes mistakes, and owning yours, is the best way to move forward without negative professional consequences when you make a mistake at work. Blaming someone else, even if there’s some truth to it, just makes you look small. So, own your errors and turn lemons into lemonade by showing your maturity and professionalism the next time you make a mistake.

5. Saying that you’re working on it when really you’d forgotten

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One of the most common and understandable reasons to tell a lie at work is to seem competent during moments when you feel anything but. For example, if a boss or supervisor asks you if something is ready to go and you haven’t even started it, you might reply, “I’m working on that right now,” without even thinking about it.

Sometimes, lying is almost a knee-jerk reaction. You might not always intend to be untruthful. Instead, you might find yourself covering up for a simple mistake without even thinking about it. But, it might benefit you to learn how to hit the pause button instead of telling a lie. There’s no harm in saying, “Oh my goodness, I just have so much going on right now, that got lost in the shuffle. I am going to get on that right away. Thanks so much for the reminder.”

It’s OK to show that you’re human and that you make mistakes.

it’s best to be honest 

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Some workplace lies are more harmful than others. But, that doesn’t mean that lying at work is ever a great idea. As a general rule, it’s best to be honest. Here are a few of the most significant reasons why:

  • Lying diminishes others’ trust in you. Being untruthful at work is more damaging than is immediately obvious. It’s often also more apparent that you’re lying than you may realize at the time. When you’re caught in an untruth, or even just suspected, it damages the trust that others have in you. This is often more damaging in the long-run than simply being honest in the first place.
  • It diminishes your trust in others. When you lie, you normalize the act of lying in your mind. You may even start to believe that it’s a more common action than it actually is. As a result, lying actually diminishes your trust in others. You might think that others are being untruthful when they’re really being honest because you’ve normalized the practice.
  • You’ll add to the confusion. The truth is important and often disturbingly hard to access in today’s world. So, don’t contribute to the confusion. Lying complicates and obstructs our and others’ grasp on reality. When you’re honest, you help others to see what’s true.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you think lying at work is a problem? We want to hear from you! Share your opinion in the comments or join the discussion on Twitter.


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