Honesty may be the best policy, but there are some cases in which employees feel compelled to feed you lies. Here's how to avoid those situations.
The reality behind the 8.6%
Most bosses hope that their employees truly believe that "honesty is the best policy." However, there are 10 situations in which, rightly or wrongly, employees will probably lie to you.
Here are the 10 times your employees may be lying to you–along with suggested ways to change the situation so that the lie no longer becomes necessary.
1. When lying is integral to their job.
If you're asking an employee to lie to the public, you can expect that employee to tell similar lies to you. For example, if you hire a PR person to put spin on bad news, they'll may very well use the same spin when they discuss the situation with you.
Prevent the lie: Demand candor from employees so they know you don't want to "breathe your own smoke."
2. When they're protecting co-workers.
Nobody likes a tattletale–and most good people prefer not to be one.
If an employee calls in sick, for example, and another employee knows it's because the first employee got plastered the night before, chances are the second employee will try to avoid "outing" the first.
Prevent the lie: If you suspect that something is wrong, confront the employee directly, rather than asking the co-worker to tattle.
3. When they're job hunting.
Employees are often afraid that they'll be penalized if you discover they're looking elsewhere, employees feel it's justified to keep their job search activities secret, even if you ask outright.
Prevent the lie: You probably can't. However, you can build contingency plans so you're never blindsided when a key employee leaves.
4. When the lie is to protect you.
Sometimes loyal employees hide bad things from the boss in order to provide the boss with "plausible deniability" should things go seriously south. They may also delay bad news until a time when they're sure the boss has the emotional bandwidth to cope with it.
Prevent the lie: First, be grateful that your employees like you enough to protect you. Second, make it clear that that, because you're in charge, you expect to remain informed.
5. When you ask about your appearance.
Most employees cringe when bosses ask: "How do I look?" It's the workplace equivalent to the ever-ominous marital question: "Do I look fat in this?" There's only one acceptable answer to either of these question, which is: "You look great!" And that's what you're going to hear, even if your fashion sense is "Pee Wee Herman meets Bjork."
Prevent the lie: If you're worried about your appearance, hire a fashion consultant, don't ask your poor employees for reassurance.
6. When you tell a lame joke.
When a boss tells a joke, underlings feel obligated to laugh even if they don't think the joke is funny. Some will attempt a respectful chuckle and other will laugh openly, but few employees will just sit there and give you the stone face that the joke really deserved.
Prevent the lie: Stop telling lame jokes.
7. When you create unnecessary work.
When employees see you doing things that will make their jobs more difficult, they'll often lie in order to keep you out of the picture. For example, salesmen frequently lie to sales managers in order to keep them from meddling in an account and making it more difficult to close the sale.
Prevent the lie: First, consider whether the employee has a point. Maybe you are making things needlessly difficult. If you're certain you're not, explain the reasoning behind your actions–so at least they know where you're coming from.
8. When you lie to them first.
If you're telling self-serving lies about salaries, raises, layoffs, work hours, etc., you can expect that employees will tell self-serving lies about work hours, projects, customers, and so forth.
The minute you lie to your employees, they feel they've earned the right to lie to you in return.
Prevent the lie: As the good book says: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
9. When you tend to shoot messengers.
If you consistently get angry or irritated at employees who bring you bad or unwelcome news, it is inevitable that most, if not all, of your employees will do anything they can–including hiding the truth–in order to get out of the firing line.
Prevent the lie: Be the kind of boss who can handle the truth–and who respects and appreciates the bearers of even the most frightening tidings.
10. When it's (literally none of your business.
If you ask about employees' religion, politics, personal life, sexual orientation, eating habits, smoking habits, or anything else that doesn't directly affect their work performance, they have no ethical obligation to answer you truthfully.
Prevent the lie: Keep your focus on business–not on your employees' private lives.
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