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Human Resources

Liar, Liar: Do Not Hire

Clock5 min. read
byBarbara Bowes onSeptember 14, 2020

Here's why lying in the workplace can have serious consequences, and why honesty is always the best policy.

I recently read a comment that seems to be one of today’s growing problems. It was as follows: "If you don’t like history, rewrite it." While this might seem funny, it isn’t. In fact, taking the liberty of rewriting history by leaving out details, twisting reality, and deliberately creating false and misleading claims is lying. Unfortunately, this is happening more and more today. It’s happening in political life and it’s happening in the work world. In my view, it’s bordering on becoming a pandemic. 

On the one hand, the larger political world appears to be riddled with individuals who think nothing of engaging in lies, omissions and denials of truth. It seems some politicians have no conscience about lying as a key tool to manipulate their constituents in order to gain support. 

In some cases, different individuals take the same set of facts but reach a different interpretation and conclusion. They seem to apply a philosophy that if they repeat their lie often enough, people won’t be able to distinguish between a truth and a lie. The result is that people become confused and distrustful of leaders who continually assault the truth. 

On the other hand, closer to our everyday work world, we unfortunately see much of the same behaviour. After all, who hasn’t met a work colleague who continually embellishes their skills and accomplishments? Who hasn’t seen an individual who always bends the truth to suit themselves? Who hasn’t met an individual who omits details in order to avoid a negative impression. Finally, we all know individuals who continually misinform their boss and colleagues and/or cover up any of their actions that might be embarrassing. 

We also see employees deliberately tell lies in an effort to build up their personal power and/or protect themselves from management and the truth. We’ve all encountered an individual who has lied on their resume and/or exaggerated their role in various corporate initiatives. These are the individuals who were simply team players but see themselves as team leaders. They think nothing of massaging job titles, thus giving the impression of an elevated status. When big name leaders are mentioned, these liars suggest they are good friends but in reality, they are not. Still, we have all known a colleague who feigned being sick with the u in order to stay home and watch an important sporting event. 

So, why do people lie? Some people lie when they want to distance themselves from something negative and/or to escape punishment. People also lie in order to save face, to impress their colleagues and/or to appear likeable. 

People may also lie when they want to avoid disagreeing with an important social group. In some cases, people lie to protect their privacy, avoid hurting someone’s feelings and/or to avoid an awkward situation. For some people, lying is a tactic to gain personal advantage. While we hope that lying doesn’t occur that often, lying for some people is an ingrained habit or compulsion, yet one in which these individuals actually believe they’re being truthful. 

However, lying in the workplace has significant consequences. From an individual perspective, lying results in one’s credibility being compromised and personal integrity being questioned. From an organizational perspective, lying can grow and become part of the larger organizational culture. As can be expected, a culture that is boiling over with lies and deceptions will not be attractive to new employees and will result in general high turnover. Customers will abandon a business where lying is the name of the game. 

Therefore, the challenge for managers is how to manage an employee who lies. There is only one answer; the individual must be held accountable for their behaviour. The following steps will help you to deal with this issue.

Act quickly — It is important for management to act quickly and deal with a lie as soon as possible. If action is delayed, it may create a more significant impact on the business overall and/or the details of the situation may become somewhat foggy unless they are documented.

Gather the facts — Take time to gather evidence of the individual’s lying behaviour. This could include reviewing documents such as emails and computer logs, interviewing colleagues, reviewing timelines and other evidence at your disposal. Document your evidence while reviewing the human resource policies and code of conduct. Determine and confirm the various breaches and the effect on your organization. Use this evidence to make your decisions regarding discipline.

Arrange a private meeting — Since it is easier for an individual to lie when talking on the phone or responding by email, be sure to make an appointment and meet the individual in person. Be careful not to call the individual a liar to his/her face but present the facts and also refer to your policies and procedures. Ask open-ended questions and get a picture of the situation from the individual’s point of view. Continue to steer the individual toward the issue without appearing to interrogate them. Give the individual a chance to explain the lie. 

Observe body language — It is well known that when people get caught in a lie, their body language changes. While compulsive liars can look you directly in the eye while they spout their lies, most people are uncomfortable lying and will shift their gaze, and blink their eyes more frequently. Their nervousness will also cause their voice to have a higher pitch.

State the truth — Be calm when listening to the employee’s explanation and then state the truth of your situation accompanied by documentation. Avoid arguing with the individual, keep your voice calm and repeat once again that the employee’s behaviour is unacceptable and that there will be consequences.

Hold employees accountable — It doesn’t matter whether an employee is lying in an attempt to win friends or lying to cover up a mistake, management must hold them accountable. This means applying the disciplinary process up to and including termination. If you don’t, then you are essentially sending a message that lying is OK in your organization and other employees will begin to mistrust you and your decision making.

Dealing with dishonest employees, those individuals who constantly lie is one of the more difficult issues to deal with. While most lies don’t reach the level of theft or embezzlement, lying of any kind can’t be tolerated in the workplace. Recognize it and deal with it.

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