A Necessary Evil?

You are a liar, admit it, you are! Whilst this may be rather a confrontational way to start an article, nine million of us tell lies in the workplace every day according to the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), (“You’re A Liar” by Lily Howes, Professional Manager, Winter 2014: 47-49). The figure is probably higher, but then, people lie, and while you may be one of those people who does not, you probably come into contact with lies on regular basis, and have been party to them in one way or another.

Whilst we are not trying to justify either way, that lying is good or bad, the motivation behind it is not always as sinister as may appear on the surface. In general we may, subconsciously, be prone to storytelling when we are engaged in activities and are busy. The rationale here is lying gets us out of tight spots during difficult times, if we had more time to respond and rationally consider things, lying would be reduced.

Is lying causing a problem? There are times when lying can defuse difficult situations, for example, if a colleague asks you what you think of their new outfit. You may think that the outfit is inappropriate for a person of their age. In this situation it is probably better, for everyone, for you to respond with a positive comment, rather than souring the workplace atmosphere, (not to mention your working relationship), with an unvarnished and unkind truth.

As with anything there are pros and cons, the issue is trying to find an appropriate balance, and not relying on lying to solve all of your problems. It would also appear, that the more senior you are within an organisation, the more prone to lies you become. In research by CMI, it was found that 35% of bosses “blend” the truth once or more a day, compared to 25% of other workers. Furthermore, managers were also more likely to act unethically than junior staff to gain the upper hand at work. Whilst you may say to yourself this is nothing new, the reality is that within the workplace, such behaviours can catch on and become the norm, impacting the entire workforce, and/or creating resentment between colleagues who are aware of the dishonesty.

This type of organisational behaviour can be fast hitting, and the causality will affect multiple functions/departments within the organisation. Research from CMI shows that 43% of workers felt pressure to work in unethical ways, such as being directed to lie to colleagues about how much peers are earning. Furthermore, there could be a culture of dishonesty, this indirect influence upon the workforce can lead to mistrust between colleagues, not knowing what to say to either internal or external clients, and ultimately feeling ill-at-ease about the organisation as a whole. In turn this can impact directly on the business, compromising organisational growth.

No one is claiming that a few white lies will lead to the demise of an organisation, nor that using the automated out of office response on your emails, while you work without constant electronic bombardment, will cause the company to combust, but a fundamental truth about lying, is that the more you do it, the easier it gets…

However, not all lies are unethical and/or malicious. A greater proportion of untruths within the working environment are of the “white” variety, in that they are used to help or comfort colleagues; and it is a fact that sometimes, in business, it is easier to lie than to tell the truth, but is it a fine line between those “little white lies” and the road to hell being paved with good intentions?