Everyone fudges the truth on occasion. But lies in the workplace should not be tolerated. A failure to address affirmative falsifications and lies of omission can lead to a culture where secrets, misrepresentations, and self-preservation are regularly placed above the company’s best interests.
Hiding in Plain Sight
No one likes to get into trouble. But that’s no excuse for hiding the truth from your supervisors. Recently, we have seen a spate of issues where employees got in over their heads, attempted to cover their tails, and created major liability for the company. Everyone struggles with work from time to time. Whether it’s learning a new process, or becoming overwhelmed with the volume of work and a lack of resources, we have all been there. But the appropriate response is to be completely transparent, and make sure that managers are aware of the situation so that no one is caught off guard.
Creating the Right Culture
So, how do we go about creating a truthful workplace? The first step is setting reasonable expectations, and managing in a calm and even-handed manner. Everyone makes mistakes. When an honest mistake occurs in the workplace, it should be treated as a learning opportunity, not a disciplinary issue. Errors are a good opportunity to examine the situation as a whole to determine whether there are ways in which individual employees can improve, and whether a larger process should share some of the blame. If, on the other hand, managers fly off the handle and are quick to make accusations when mistakes are made, employees are highly incentivized to lie and cover their tracks.
It is also important that management have clear job expectations for all employees. In employment law, things often go wrong when managerial employees are given too much leeway in the realm of human resources decisions. Managers should know when to bring HR professionals into a discussion: this includes any time when allegations of discrimination, harassment, retaliation, or other inequitable conduct are made. The same is true of requests for reasonable accommodations, if a disability is at issue. Managers also need to carefully consult with HR regarding compensation. Front-line supervisors often make ill-fated comments regarding overtime compensation, the availability and use of comp. time, and similar concerns. It should be clear, from the outset, that managerial employees are not experts in human resources, and should not make statements regarding these complex legal issues without consulting with the authorities.
Discipline When Discipline Is Due
While reasonable errors should be treated as learning experiences, the converse is also true: when an employee makes an inexcusable mistake, including affirmative misrepresentations or lies of omission, the hammer should fall. There is no room for any employee to put his or her own fears above the best interests of the company. When such self-serving misconduct comes to the attention of the company, it should be dealt with as the serious infraction that it is. Still, discipline must be issued in a calm, professional manner. All employees should receive the benefit of an objective investigation and, whenever possible, be given the opportunity to explain their version of events. Disciplinary matters should always be handled discretely, and in as confidential a manner as possible, consistent with a thorough investigation.
Lying in the workplace, especially when the underlying issue can be easily corrected, is often overlooked. However, these issues strike at the fundamental trust that exists between employers and employees. If you cannot trust your employees to be honest with you, there is very little work they can safely perform in the modern workplace. Lying should be treated as the serious infraction that it is. And we should all strive to create a workplace that supports honesty, and a culture of learning from our mistakes.