How often have you lied at work?


It’s just too easy. I’m sure that we have all done it. The door of “the easy way out” beckons and you tell that little lie. You tell yourself that no one is honest all the time, as you simultaneously hatch a plan to cover it up. There are conflicting views on the value of “white lies”, but for those people whose work lives are ruled by deceit and subterfuge, their lies can only cause harm.

In a piece of research in 2014, Kim Serota, a professor from Oakland, carried out a revealing study on lying. He found that 60% of the subjects reported not telling any lies on any given day and that 5% of the respondents told half the volume of lies. This suggests a tendency towards “prolific lying.” He found that the average number of lies in the UK was four per day, with “prolific liars” telling significantly more than four lies per day.

According to the data, prolific liars are younger, are more likely to be male and have higher occupational status. Senior managers seem to be more likely to be prolific liars than junior managers and non-management employees. This trend opposes the broader finding that people tell fewer lies as they get older.

The collaborative nature of our working life is such that it is easy to get caught up in someone’s web of deceit. If you accept their lie as a truth and then act on it, you are allowing it to become part of your reality and the responsibility for the consequences now partly lies with you. There is also the feeling that if someone has told a white lie to you, it is almost acceptable to lie to them in return. This is an extremely slippery slope. If you are being told a lie, in many cases, the best course of action is to question the facts and get to the truth of the matter.

People lie for various reasons – not all of them are malicious, so be delicate and forgiving when you uncover the lie. “I’m sure that you were mistaken” or “you may not quite have understood” are much better approaches than aggressively accusing them of being deliberately misleading. The liars will often be relieved that their lie has been “rumbled” in such an understanding manner, and they will be unlikely to do it again with you anytime soon.

The dilemma comes if someone’s lie does not directly affect you. It may be seen as “meddling” if you get involved, but everyone has a different view. The fact is that most lies will come to light in the end. Living the life of a fraud is never a long-term option, and once one lie is discovered, all the others will be sure to unravel.

To give a recruitment example, there have been lots of high profile examples where the simple matter of lying on a CV has been discovered decades later, yet the outcome has been the same. Loss of trust, loss of reputation and often loss of employment. That person may have been promoted instead of you. How do you feel about their lie? Would you still tell “little white lies” like this yourself?

All lies catch up with you in the end.

Lee Narraway
Managing Director
Antal International Network
T: +44 (0) 1925 747 709
The Whitehouse, Greenalls Avenue
Warrington, Cheshire, WA4 6HL