When working in an office space, it’s not uncommon to hear a few lies throughout the day. We’re not talking Machiavellian levels of deceit, but if someone asks you where their favourite mug is, and you know full well it’s sitting at the bottom of the bin because you accidently broke it last week then the chances are you might answer with “oh I have no idea” instead of the truth.
Most of us tell ‘little white lies’ from time to time, whether to save a bigger situation from developing, or to not hurt someone’s feelings. So, when it comes to telling little white lies at work, experienced staff have had years of practice, but with many workers stuck at home for the foreseeable future, it can almost feel like a new world of fibbing. Do you risk even bigger lies? Can you get away with anything? How do you stop yourself going form little white lies to huge whoppers if you’ve got no work colleagues to keep you in check? Here, we speak to GearHungry’s resident Career Advisor Charlotte Moore on the dos and don’ts’ of lying from home. ‘Office politics is a minefield when it comes to what and what-not to say. The obvious thing to do would be to always tell the truth, and the best places of work are built on trust, understanding and respect. But if a company has a demanding boss, or overeager workers trying to climb their way up the ladder, then an honest person can sometimes feel pressured into doing work that’s not their responsibility, covering for other people’s short-comings, or constantly being asked to do overtime.’
‘In a workplace, middle management and supervisors tend to lie the most, with 37% admitting to lying at least once a week, most likely because they have to relay information with people above and below them on a regular basis. So how do little white lies work, and can they get out of hand now that we are working remotely, and seemingly without repercussions?’
Lies in the workplace
‘Little white lies tend to be either used to cover a mistake on your part that could turn into something bigger if discussed, or to shield someone from getting their feelings hurt. When working remotely, these lies can get out of hand, from saying you’re working on something when you’re not, to covering poor time management. Here, I’ll discuss some of the ways you can stop yourself getting into hot water, as well as lies that will in some cases benefit you in the long run.’
Don’t be agreeable when you really disagree
We’ve all at least once in our career taken on more work than we can handle, and usually it’s not by choice, as Charlotte explains. ‘The common misconception is that saying yes to things will help you do well in the office. To some extent, being agreeable is a great quality – it shows you’re open to work harder, are there for others when they need help, and want to help the business grow. But being too agreeable can quickly make the work pile up on your desk, and people less considerate than you will possibly see you as a soft touch and a pushover.’
‘Lying and saying that you have the time to take on some extra work when working from an office isn’t ideal, but for most of us we can leave it behind when we clock out. Overloading yourself when working from home means that it’s far harder to switch off, and suddenly you’re working till 9pm and missing out on a social life (or at least whatever social life you have left during lockdown).
Be honest with how much work you have on your plate and explain your timetable if they become pushy about you doing more. The price of being less agreeable and looking out for yourself means not everyone is going to like you but putting yourself and your time first is far more important.
Don’t play the blame game
Being light with the truth isn’t just words. A lot of fibbing is in facial expressions and body language, and when working from home a little white lie can be exaggerated, which can lead to misunderstandings.
‘One of the most common lies you’ll hear in the workplace is ‘They never told me to do that’ (with 36% of surveyed workers claiming to have used it). When used with body language it can easily be interpreted as a throw away excuse; even if your supervisor or co-worker doesn’t fully believe you the conversation usually quickly moves on. But when this lie is said in text or over email, it can come off as finger pointing as it loses its intonation and is presented as cold hard facts. It also raises the problem of not being able to explain the situation to the person you’re blaming. In a normal office environment, you can clarify why you said it, but when working remotely it can become a ‘he said/she said’ situation and can easily get out of hand. Stay clear from finger pointing at all costs, and instead own your mistakes in the workplace – it’ll help you grow as a worker, and staff will value the honesty.
Don’t Claim you’re working on something when you’re not
When 1000 salaried employees were asked what lies they told the most, 47% of them claimed to have lied about working on something when they’re not, with 24% seeing it as a harmless little white lie. ‘This is a classic work lie. Seemingly risk-free, easily fixable, and vague enough that it could mean I’m just about to start it or I’m just about to finish it. The problem is, when using this when working from home you run the high chance that the person you’re lying to will ask to see what you’ve done so far as proof. Putting pressure on yourself to complete something is never going to produce your best work and has been proven to create high levels of stress and anxiety.
Try to stick to a structured timetable and avoid distractions that can pull you out of the work zone. If you do start a project late, or not at all, it’s always best to pre-empt the discussion of lateness with an honest email, or message a time frame over that you expect to complete it in. Workers find it easier to work without the pressure of being asked when it will be completed, so keep your boss informed of your progress, as opposed to waiting for the dreaded ‘have you got that piece for me’ email.
Don’t continue with the same lies you used at the office
‘The most common lie at the workplace always revolves around lateness. ‘My car broke down’, ‘I missed my train’ or ‘my alarm didn’t go off’. I’m sure we’ve all heard (and used) them a thousand times. Unfortunately, with the changes to our work lives some of these little white lies have been retired for now. So for the 48% of you who regularly use ‘I was caught in traffic’, I’m afraid you either going to have to learn to get up on time for those zoom meetings, or find a new believable fib, though I’m not sure your boss is going to be too sympatric to ‘sorry, but the walk to the computer was really busy today’.
Do go easy on colleague if they ask your opinion
‘Being brutally honesty is rarely a good idea in the workplace and shattering someone’s confidence while working from home is equally bad. For many, public speaking is a living nightmare, and the idea of having to do it over a video call with very little feedback is something that would fill many with dread. If a colleague asks how they did after bombing in front of the entire office, there is no need to kick them while they’re down. Find areas that they showed promise in and embellish some of the positives. Very few people deal with criticism well, and it’s far easier to lie a little and move on.’
Do say you’ll look into that
‘While working from home, you’ll find more and more that people will ask things of you, as opposed to at an office space where you’re usually allowed to get on with your tasks. This is down to the fact that when working from home, it’s impossible for them to see how much work you’ve got on. If someone asks for a favour that you’re uncomfortable doing, don’t outright say no – or worse, yes to please them – instead, say you’ll look into it when you get the time. It’s a classic brush-off technique, and in most cases the person who asked you will move onto someone else. Once again, this isn’t an outright lie, but more a way to provide you with added time to work on the projects you’re supposed to be working on, as opposed to looking other a piece of work that has nothing to do with you’.
Do say your camera is broken
‘it’s 9am, you’ve been asked to get up for a video meeting and talk about last week’s sales. The last thing you want to do is put on a face full of makeup and wash your hair. Instead used the tried and tested ‘I can’t seem to get my camera working this morning’. This lie causes no harm and provides you with a much needed breck from all those staring eyes.’
‘Remember, lying at work overtime diminishes other’s trust in you, your trust in others, and will eventually create a confusing and uneasy environment. A little white lie here and there to save someone’s feelings at work will never reflect badly on you, just know where to draw the line’.