Is your boss lying to you? The truth is that managers may lie more than most. In a SimplyHired survey, 37% supervisors admitted to telling “white lies” at least once a week, compared to 30% of associates and 28% of entry-level workers.
Further, supervisors were most likely to lie up and down the corporate ladder: 34% said they lied to their own supervisors, while 32% lied to associates and 34% lied to subordinates. In contrast, entry-level and associate-level employees were most likely to lie to their supervisors — 51% and 41% admitted to lying to their bosses, respectively.
Of course, some lies are worse than others. Grammarist notes that: “A white lie is a fib that is told to spare the feelings of the listener or so the teller may avoid minor repercussions. A white lie is considered harmless, and sometimes may even be considered a kindness.” If your boss tells you that they enjoyed your karaoke performance at the last company happy hour, you probably won’t be upset about it — even if they’re being diplomatic. But if they steal your million-dollar idea and present it to their boss as their own, you’re not going to be thrilled.
On the other hand, perhaps even prosocial lying, as psychologist Romeo Vitelli terms the practice in Psychology Today, isn’t entirely harmless.
Vitelli explains that in one study “researchers established that prosocial lying was most likely to occur due to the fear of causing emotional harm with negative feedback. Even when other factors such as the emotional state of the rater were taken into account, the link between compassion and lying seemed particularly strong.”
Compassion is obviously a plus — but in a corporate environment, so is the ability to exchange feedback. If your supervisor feels that they can’t communicate with you openly, it will be hard for them to help you achieve your goals.
So is your boss lying to you — and if so, what are they lying about? According to SimplyHired’s research, the folks in charge are more likely to lie about some things than others.
what Supervisors lie about (and why they do it)
So, we already know from this research that managers are just as likely to lie to subordinates as they are to their supervisors. But, what do they lie about, and why do they do it?
According to the results of this survey, these are the top three lies managers are more likely to tell:
1. We don’t have the budget for that
Lying about budget restrictions came in as the most common lie told by managers. And, it seems most people agree that this kind of untruth could be damaging. Only 9% of those surveyed said it was a harmless lie.
There are plenty of occasions when a manager has the opportunity to lie about budget. They might use this excuse to squash an idea for a new project that comes with some expenses, for example. Or, they might even use it to turn down a subordinate’s request for a raise.
Managers who lie about budgeting would be wise to lead with more transparency. Trust is the foundation of strong workplace relationships and lying damages that. On the other hand, transparency improves trust, connections and happiness. Some managers even hold regular meetings where they answer any and all business and budget questions from their team. This builds trust and openness in the workplace.
2. I need this done as soon as possible
Lying about timelines seems pretty common across the board. Saying that a task must be completed as soon as possible is the second most popular lie for managers. And, “I’m working on that right now” was the fourth most common lie told overall. Fourth-seven percent of those surveyed admitted to having told this lie at some point in their career.
The reason for these kinds of lies is pretty obvious. Managers might say that they need something as soon as possible as a way to make sure that they meet their eventual deadline.
Still, just because a lie makes some sense, or is common, that doesn’t mean that it’s right. Supervisors expect their workers to be straight with them. So, if you haven’t even begun a project, you shouldn’t say it’s almost ready to go. Similarly, employees deserve to know the actual timeline for the project they’re working with.
Managers should feel comfortable saying, for example, that they’d like it by Monday in case it needs any more work before the meeting on Wednesday, where it will be presented. There’s nothing wrong with including employees in the process. Most will appreciate the honestly.
3. That was my idea
This popular lie is far more damaging than the rest. It’s absolutely wrong for a manager to take credit for work or ideas that rightfully belong to someone else.
It’s unfortunate that this kind of deception is so common because it’s also really bad for business, as well as everyone involved. If you’ve ever had a manager do this to you, you know the sting that comes with it. Occasionally, this can happen by mistake. But, other times the motivation is more sinister. And, some managers wrongfully believe that they have some degree of ownership over everything their team produces. Still, there’s no good excuse for this behavior, especially when it happens repeatedly.
Thankfully, there are things you can do when your boss takes credit for your work. It’s important to speak up if you think the credit-stealing could be costing you a promotion or even if it’s habitual and otherwise going too far. Be sure to document your work so that you can provide some information that shows how you came up with the idea in question. In other, less dire cases, you might also try setting an example for your boss to follow.
“You boss may be insecure about her position or not be adept at letting others shine,” says Lynn Taylor, author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant, speaking with Forbes. “But you can be a catalyst for showing her the light. Tell her how proud you are of other team members for their specific contributions, and how those are helping her. Over time it will help her to see more of the benefits of giving credit; how savvy that makes you look, and how indispensable a team is to her own success.”
Managers lie for all kinds of reasons, and sometimes their lies are more damaging than others. You should know that these untruths do matter. And, there’s something you can do about them. If you’re concerned that your supervisor’s lies could be doing real damage to your career, it may be time to act. Document the facts so you can prove your points, and consider speaking with others about what you’ve noticed and tracked.
Are you looking for a new job? Find out how much your skills are worth in today’s job market. Take the PayScale Salary Survey and get a free salary report in minutes.
Lying is more common in some industries than others
It seems that some kinds of work environments are more likely to inspire lying than others. The hotel, food service & hospitality industry ranked as the number one industry for untruths. Technology came in second and transportation & warehousing ranked as the third top industry for telling the most lies.
If you work in one of these industries than you may already suspect these results. However, knowing that lying is popular in your field can also help you to be aware and guarded against it. The industries that ranked toward the bottom of the list were marketing & advertising, followed by manufacturing and arts, entertainment & recreation.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s not that professionals in other fields don’t lie. They just do it less than others, according to this survey. Unfortunately, lying at work is common — especially among managers. But, knowing the truth about that can help you in your career.
Tell Us What You Think
Is your boss lying to you? We want to hear from you! Share your story in the comments or join the discussion on Twitter.