Pinocchio and the Pencil Pushers

Want help with your hiring? It's easy. Enter your information below, and we'll quickly reach out to discuss your hiring needs.

Smiling insincere receptionist with long nose talking on the telephoneIntegrity is a quality managers and corporate leaders need to have. But in reality, 35.4 percent of company leadership tells at least one white lie per day.


Surprisingly enough, managers aren’t lying to their employees, but to their supervisors. Which means, if you manage a team, you might be on the receiving end of these lies. It’s even more disappointing that employees often see their managers as having poor moral ethics—an astonishing 80.1 percent. This is not the kind of leadership we want to have. Even when it is a small, seemingly insignificant lie, lying is toxic in the workplace. But how to prevent it, or perhaps just offset the damage? Here are four quick ideas to help you keep an office worthy of Honest Abe:

Don’t leave room for lies

Instead of telling an employee how great they are and how valued their work is with superfluous words, use metrics. Set measurable objectives to show employees what their work is truly worth. This saves managers from the temptation of using phrases that don’t always match the employee. Most employees don’t fit the “you’re one of our best employees,” “good job,” or “here’s your raise” category. Keep in mind that employees want to help achieve company objectives, but many don’t know what those are. Be as transparent as possible and close every feedback loop.

Recognize that omission is part of the problem

Deception in the office goes beyond blatant lies. Say Joe processed an insurance claim. He accidentally mixed up some numbers, was aware of the mistake, but didn’t say anything. If he doesn’t get caught, what does it matter? Lying by omission perpetuates the habit. It doesn’t seem like a true lie, however. Allowing another person to come to the wrong conclusion without correction is just as big of a problem as blatantly lying. Again, transparency in reporting can solve this issue, at least in part. Look to 360 reviews and don’t forget to positively motivate those who aren’t hiding part of the story.

Pick your battles

While roughly 1 out of 3 of all employees tell one white lie at least once per day, that doesn’t make the habit any less of a problem. However, management should learn that a one-size-fits-all strategy may simply alienate workers. Instead, focus on lies that directly affect performance or other members of the team. Even when confrontation is difficult, it is important to point out unacceptable behavior, as allowing one person to lie continuously can propagate the behavior. Implementing an intranet with few “closed” groups can help this behavior. Another idea? Make team goals (and fulfillment) available across the enterprise to avoid confusion.

Build in Accountability

It is easy to lie about a project or a deadline when no one is accountable. If no one is responsible for it, who will speak up for it? Setting a good accountability policy will place a standard on management and employees alike. It will ensure everyone holds to the same policies. It is a team effort to hold each other accountable for corporate actions. Encourage your employees to keep accountable for their own work by:

  • Not covering up mistakes – Own up to mistakes. If mistakes happened, they will not stay hidden in the long run. Encourage this by not overreacting when someone makes an honest mistake. Instead, use it as a teachable moment.
  • Not blaming others – Again, own up to mistakes. Don’t put them on someone else. This not only creates for a hostile work environment, it makes others distrustful. Leaders can ensure this doesn’t happen by asking employees to “show their work”, this generally reveals the guilty party.
  • Do more than the minimum – Some employees barely meet requirements. Get all team members on board with consistent process improvement. Some will scoff, others will rise to the challenge, more will want to at least keep up with the higher bar set.
  • Meet expectations – It’s an adult environment. The workplace is no longer about “good try,” or “you’ll get ‘em next time” comments. Employees either meet expectations or they don’t. While it’s important to praise employees for a job well done (gratitude is especially effective) an effective leader will not sugarcoat a poorly executed plan.

Pinpointing Pinocchio

What needs to happen when someone deliberately lies in the workplace? If it is a habitual tendency, management needs to address the issue. Lying in the workplace can greatly depreciate the environment for employees and the quality of work. The bigger the lie, the bigger the problem; they all need attention. There are three options in dealing with a liar. An employee can confront the liar, report them, or ignore the lies. The latter option is toxic for the workplace.

Read more in Business Communication

Maren Hogan is a seasoned marketer and community builder in the HR and Recruiting industry. She leads Red Branch Media, an agency offering marketing strategy and content development. A consistent advocate of next generation marketing techniques, Hogan has built successful online communities, deployed brand strategies in both the B2B and B2C sectors, and been a prolific contributor of thought leadership in the global recruitment and talent space. Hogan speaks and writes on all career and workforce related subjects. Her clients include Fortune 500 companies and SMBs around the globe. Red Branch Media was formed in 2006 as a simple consultancy. Today, the firm is a full-service B2B Marketing Agency that serves clients in the U.K., Africa, China, Israel, Europe and North America. Primarily focused on the Human Resources and Global Workforce vendors, Red Branch Media handles clients of all shapes and sizes.
Google+ Profile