Do you ever secretly feel like your team is withholding information? That you're only getting half of the story? Or that employees are just telling you what you want to hear? 

You're not alone. According to a SimplyHired survey, more employees fib to their supervisors than to their co-workers or subordinates. Combine this stat with those employees who don't say anything at all, and you're looking at a wide-spread lack of reliable information.  

So why do employees feel like they have to lie? 

The truth? They're afraid of repercussions. They're scared of the exposure that comes from being open and honest, especially with managers.  

Little white-lies about staying home sick are one thing, but when employees consistently withhold the truth from their managers and teams, engagement suffers, and productivity is stifled. 

Root Inc., a management consulting firm that's worked with many Fortune 50 companies, sees this issue surface most frequently during times of organizational change. As companies go through cultural, procedural, or structural shifts, employees are afraid of what telling the truth might do to the status of their jobs.

The issue is that as truth-telling declines, cost, bureaucracy, redundancies, and a lack of confidence in the future all rise, warns Root. 

They specifically called out eight common fears that drive employees to guard their words. 

  1. The fear of indictment for past performance 
  2. The fear of being branded and punished for not being on board 
  3. The fear of offending a teammate or colleague
  4. The fear of not being accepted by the team 
  5. The fear that speaking the truth will zap valuable time and energy and never be resolved anyway (don't open a can of worms) 
  6. The fear of not being valued if I say what I really think 
  7. The fear that it is just not safe to talk about the truth 
  8. The fear of letting them know you don't have it all figured out 

Managers: Provide air cover and encourage employees to be authentic. 

Regardless of how hard you try, organizational change cannot be morphed into an industrial process. It's not a mechanical nor formulaic system where you're guaranteed a positive outcome by sticking to a script. Change is a very human experience; it's organic.  

To encourage employees to open up and be honest, and to support change momentum, managers have to provide the right conditions. In the words of Sir Ken Robinson, British author, speaker, and advisor, managers have to shift their mindset from "command and control" to that of "climate control." 

Regarding honesty, we've all been in meetings and, due to the fear of seeming incompetent, have held back questions or ideas. It's unnerving to feel like you're in an environment where everything you do or say is under a microscope. Understandably, it keeps you from disclosing information and feelings. 

But imagine a different setting. A situation in which everyone is safe to take risks, voice their opinions, and ask judgment-free questions; a culture where managers go first, provide air cover, and create safe zones so employees can let down their guard and speak up.

That's the goal. 

Published on: Oct 31, 2019
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