When is it OK to tell lies at work?

When asked if it was ever okay to lie at work, most people said 'yes!', but only under certain circumstances

Carol Kinsey GomanWe tell all sorts of lies at work. We flatter, exaggerate, omit, and mislead – primarily to avoid punishment, to make ourselves look better, to control information, or to protect others.

Some of our workplace lies trigger feelings of anxiety, guilt, or remorse. But there are other lies that many of us feel justified in telling.

As background for a book  I surveyed 547 business professionals about a variety of workplace deception issues. When I asked if it was ever okay to lie at work, I found that most people said ‘yes!’ – under some circumstances. Here are the top seven:

1. When there are workplace policies that ‘create’ liars

I’ll say I’m sick when what I really need is a sanity break. But why can’t employees take a ‘mental health’ day? Why make us lie about it?

2. When the boss can’t handle the truth

Have you ever tried telling your boss the bad news? I did once and I’m still suffering the repercussions. Never again!

3. When the manager shows favoritism

The minute we saw how the manager plays favourites, we all felt pressured to ‘suck up.’

4. When the culture doesn’t accept mistakes

If mistakes aren’t allowed, it’s okay to say you never make them.

5. To avoid unnecessary meetings

When I’m at a meeting and find I am wasting my time, I leave saying I have to attend another meeting. I also lie about my agenda when I don’t want to attend meetings. Or sometimes I will pretend to forget a meeting. However, I use this technique only for meetings I view as a waste of my time. I do attend important meetings.

6. When leaders lie

I wasn’t a liar until I started working for a company with a toxic senior management team. It is common knowledge that they tell lies about their own schedules (working from home, showing up late, taking long lunches, etc.). Now I think it only fair that I do the same.

7. When it is perceived as a ‘career-limiting’ move to be honest

I said I resigned ‘for professional growth reasons.’ It would have been career suicide to tell the truth.

What do you think? Is it ever okay to tell lies at work?

Troy Media columnist Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD, is an executive coach, consultant, and international keynote speaker at corporate, government, and association events. She is also the author of The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help – or Hurt – How You Lead.


The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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