Former US president Bill Clinton was once famously quoted as saying: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” when he was alleged to have had an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
Clinton publicly denied his affair with her. So when he was found to be lying, not only did the American public turn on him, but his reputation as leader was called into question and his political career tarnished. It also affected his relationships with his colleagues and peers – not to mention his wife.
This is a stark example of how lying to protect yourself can have a knock-on effect on your career, others or even the people, institution or company you are representing.
Malcolm Higgs, director of the school of leadership change and HR management at Henley Management College, says he came across one organisation where the chief executive was so feared that employees ended up systematically lying to save their skins and the company eventually ended up going bust.
Higgs says: “This particular chief executive used to explode if he received any bad news. It’s a good example of demonstrating that if employees get treated badly, it creates a toxic culture, so it’s inevitable that a company is not likely to survive.”
He believes that lying in the workplace can occur at all levels, which is bad news for business.
A recent study of 50 employees by the University of Central Lancashire revealed that about one-third of the respondents admitted to deception in the workplace, with 15% saying they had actually lied.
The findings showed that the most common forms of deception included distorting information, withholding information or changing the subject to deceive.
Sandi Mann, senior lecturer in occupational psychology at the University of Central Lancashire, says: “Deception occurs frequently in everyday workplace communications, so managers and employees should be on their guard.”
Job applicants can sometimes be the worst culprits for stretching the truth. Another study, by HR consultancy Water for Fish, found that 48% of working adults exaggerate the truth when they submit job applications.
According to director Nicola Mindell, areas where applicants are most likely to exaggerate or lie include personal interests, reasons for leaving a job and previous job responsibilities.
One respondent even claimed that an overseas applicant had written down on their CV that they had been educated at the University of Toytown.
Mindell explains: “CVs are carefully selected slices of a person’s life. But don’t let the applicant set the agenda in the interview based on this, otherwise you risk getting a worker who is under- or over-qualified and end up in a situation where the new employee and organisation do not fit together well.”
Ask challenging and competent interview questions, she adds, that get below the surface to test thoroughly the skills, attitudes and behaviours of a candidate. Being rigorous may not rule out hiring a bare-faced liar, but will minimise the risk.
Fighting the fibbers
Employees who lack motivation are more likely to lie because they don’t care about their job or the organisation’s core values.
Conduct regular employee research to identify why employees are unhappy or likely to lie.
Address any problems immediately.
Identify champions who can show the business’s commitment to its goals.
Recognise and reward employees.
Source: Paul Brown, recognition practice leader, Maritz