When we think of our average working day, the first thing that springs to mind probably isn’t telling lies. However, if you really think about it, how often do you think you bend the truth in your workplace? Everything from missed deadlines through to avoiding dreaded team building exercises and ‘borrowed’ office supplies could persuade us to tell a little white lie.
We recently carried out a study to unearth the truth behind lying in the workplace. Surveying 2,012 UK workers, we wanted to know how often they lie at work, when they started lying to their employer, which lies they think are most acceptable at work and much more.
Getting Your Five-a-Day
Although we might be inclined to think of ourselves as honest throughout the working day, there are often situations where we feel the truth needs to be bent slightly. Maybe that mistake needs to go through the paper shredder before your manager sees it or the ‘traffic’ made you late this morning. This is reflected in our survey results, where we found that almost one-in-seven (69%) of respondents have lied in the workplace. Further to this, 47% of UK workers said they tell up to five lies every working day.
Based on data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), we can project that 22.7 million UK workers have lied in their job, with up to 77.3 million lies told in workplaces around the country each day.
Norwich came out as the city in which you’re most likely to be lied to at work, with 78% of residents in the Norfolk city area saying they’ve lied in the workplace. Norwich was followed by Manchester (75%), Newcastle (72%), Glasgow (71%) and London (70%).
What Lies Do We Tell?
There was a common theme when it comes to the most common lies – they were all told in order to help workers avoid either being in work or at work-related events.
The most common lie told at work is to not disclose the real reasons for booking time off. Over a quarter of respondents (26%) said they’d booked time off without being completely honest about what they were doing. Some of this might be attributed to people booking time off for job interviews they’d rather their employer didn’t know about, or for sensitive appointments that they don’t wish to make common knowledge.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, lying to get out of a social situation with colleagues came in second with a quarter (25%) of respondents having spun this yarn to avoid spending time with colleagues outside the office.
What’s an Acceptable Lie?
Telling a lie at work is one thing, but how many people actually think the lies they’re telling are acceptable? We also asked our survey respondents to tell us just how acceptable a number of different work-related lies are.
The top five most acceptable lies at work were:
|Lie||Percentage who think it’s acceptable|
|Lying to make a colleague feel better||
|Lying about liking your employer||
|Lie about liking the company||
|Lying to a client or customer||
|Lying on a CV||
Lying to make a colleague feel better (58%) came out as the most acceptable lie, showing that there is some positive sentiment or intention behind the lies that people believe to be acceptable. As part of the survey, we received several examples that people had heard in their workplace. These range from the harmless, like “I told my colleague that she smelt lovely when everyone knows she has hygiene issues”, to lies that can be detrimental to that person and the business in the long run – no matter what the intention, such as “I told a colleague he was capable of doing a job that he was clearly out of control of”.
A Generational Change
Lying in the workplace is clearly commonplace now, but has this always been the case or is it a growing trend? Well, our stats show that lying at work is much more common with younger generations. Only 56% of over-55s, or Baby Boomers, said they previously told a lie in the workplace. This figure is much higher for Millennials (25-35-year olds), with over three quarters (76%) having lied at work.
In an increasingly competitive market, it seems that younger people are much more inclined to lie on their CVs. 30% of Gen Z (16-24-year olds) and 33% of Millennials said it’s acceptable to lie on a CV, compared to just 18% of Baby Boomers. When asked whether they’d take the blame for a manager’s mistake, the generational gap became even more obvious, 32% of Gen Z and 28% of Millennials said they would accept fault, compared to just 11% of Baby Boomers.
These stats show a clear change in the attitudes of the workforce across the generations. Workplace culture now seems to be built more on lies from the very start, with people getting jobs through dishonesty on their CVs – something that older generations are much less likely to do. Similarly, when working in these roles, there would appear to be either more pressure or more willingness to take blame for those in senior positions.
HR Must Set the Standard
The age demographic differences lead nicely onto the differences we noted between different industries. With a clearly shifting landscape in workplaces around the country, the splits between industry could offer some explanation.
When it comes to different industries, you may be surprised that those working in the HR industry are most likely to lie in the workplace. 83% of HR professionals said they’d lied at work, well above the UK average, and IT & Telecoms (76%) in second place. Despite the HR department being the flagbearers of honesty in the workplace, these results show that there is some way to go before HR can truly be an example when it comes to morality.
Similarly, 38% of those working in HR said they think lying on a CV is acceptable and 30% said they’d lied on their own application, with a further 48% saying it’s acceptable to take the blame for a manager’s mistake. With so much more focus on mental health and wellbeing, HR employees must make sure they’re doing their part to support workers and not encourage negative behaviours.
How Can We Change This Culture?
76% of our respondents said they’d never been caught out for lying in the workplace or had to suffer any repercussions. This shows that there isn’t a culture of accountability when it comes to lying, meaning there’s nothing to deter people from lying at work. Here are three tips to help stop lying in the workplace from becoming part of your company culture:
Lead by Example
From company directors and the HR department, through to line managers and beyond, setting an example by always being truthful and honest is the best place to start. If people see those in a position of authority clearly lying as part of their job, they’re much more likely to do so themselves.
Call Out Liars
Just like the 76% of people who’ve never been caught lying at work or had to suffer the repercussions, if people think there are no negative ramifications, they’re much more likely to continue lying at work. There need to be clear rules in place about dishonesty at work, and procedures followed when it happens.
Having regular, open and honest conversations with your employees will help to cultivate a culture of honesty. Whether this is in one-to-one meetings with staff, or as part of wider company conversations, encouraging honesty as regularly as possible will help to ingrain it into the values of your business and its employees.
Is lying commonplace in your workplace? How have you worked to make your business as honest as possible? Visit us at @viking_chat and tell us all about it! We’d love to hear from you!