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Is honesty at work always the best policy?

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Organisations are essentially a collection of relationships, and honesty is one of the most obvious and neglected keys to improving relationships and self-awareness. It is a very valuable, though often overlooked, commodity at the workplace.

When one chooses to be more honest with others, the morale and productivity of the whole team improves in the process. In fact, telling the truth is probably the single most cost-effective and simple way to productivity and employee satisfaction.

However, many employees admit they have told a lie at the office at some time or another, and some have also been caught. “It’s not uncommon for managers to fire employees for being dishonest. Even in the case of a small and seemingly inconsequential lie, a vast majority of managers will be less likely to promote the employee in question,” says Mitali Tyagi, 29, a recruitment consultant with a private firm in Pune.

“Employees in the workplace must realise that even a small hint of dishonest behaviour can tarnish one’s reputation and mar professional success. For example, there are employees who ‘steal’ company time by surfing the Internet during working hours or use the company’s equipment for their personal use. They are actually just as guilty of theft as a person who takes money directly out of the company’s account or fibs on an expense report,” says Anuj Raheja, 28, an HR Manager in Delhi.

Common lies at the office

The most common thing employees lie about at work include:

~ Resumes

The credibility counter is activated the minute one submits a CV. “The chronology must be factual and degrees and awards must be correct. The reasons for lying on a resume are generally to make oneself look more attractive to the employer. However, the repercussions are grave — individuals run the risk of losing their job and damaging their career by misrepresenting their accomplishments,” warns Mitali.

Anuj cites an incident: “Upon checking a manager’s file, I discovered the recruitment people had verified his graduate degree but hadn’t checked on his post-graduate degree. Being concerned that the file wasn’t complete, I asked the manager to bring in his original documents. Rather than do that, he resigned. In closing, he admitted he had ‘fibbed’ a little on his resume and, while he did spend some time at the institute in question, hadn’t earned the degree. It was a career opportunity lost because of workplace dishonesty.”

~ References

Workplace dishonesty can raise its ugly head even before an individual joins an organization. Mitali says, “While verifying candidates’ CVs, we have even come across CVs in which the references listed didn’t even know the candidate!”

Anuj has an interesting anecdote to share as well: “During one of our recruitment drives, a colleague popped into my office to tell me that a candidate she was interviewing mentioned that an industry acquaintance of mine had recommended the company to him and had mentioned my name. This candidate possessed all the qualifications for the job and was being seriously considered for the position, until I happened to run into my industry acquaintance who said he had never met the candidate. As a result of the candidate’s dishonesty, he was dropped from consideration.”

~ Assertions made about others

Whatever capacity one holds, their words carry weight that affects others. Gossiping about others or spreading half-truths can brand the individual as untrustworthy and affect his or her promotion. Gossip or betraying confidence can destroy one’s own credibility.

“The reasons for doing this may be as an attempt to promote oneself at the cost of others,” says Mitali. One of the keys to success in the workplace is stimulating trust from one’s colleagues.

~ Withholding information

“Whenever someone avoids a pending issue with a colleague, tells their superior only the good news, or remains silent when they disagree with a proposed initiative, they are withholding information and being dishonest,” says Anuj.

“On an interpersonal level, the reasons for this may be to hold back their real feelings about how a colleague or manager treats them. They may be afraid to speak the truth because they might hurt someone or may be hurt by retribution from someone else. On an organizational level, they may be afraid to be honest about what’s going wrong, such as mistakes or failures that might be connected to them. This could be because they are afraid of being blamed or punished. So instead, they fib.”

~ Feigning sickness

There is probably no corporate soul who hasn’t feigned sickness at one time or another. The reasons for doing it are many, but the repercussions can be serious if one is caught.

~ Covering up a failed project, mistake or missed deadline

Again, the main reason for touting this type of lie is because an individual is afraid. People aren’t upfront when they are afraid. Mitali has some advice: “Don’t ever lie about deadlines. If you know you can’t get a project done by the coming Monday, say that clearly at the beginning. It’s a lot easier on everyone to know what can and cannot be done by when.”

~ Falsifying expense reports

“A common phenomenon, exaggerating expenses is done by employees to extract as much compensation as they can from a company. The reason for this could be possible dissatisfaction with their current package, or plain deceitfulness and irresponsibility,” says Anuj. He cites an example of his senior manager who had to terminate an executive when he discovered the latter had cheated on a group dinner bill he had submitted. The manager was suspicious about the exorbitant amount and had called a couple of the people listed on the report, all of whom denied eating out on that night.

Is honesty always the best policy?

When employees choose to be honest, teamwork and overall productivity also improves. However, there are some situations where ‘dishonesty’ (for instance, in the form of diplomacy) is sometimes better than being blunt, such as when having to appease a colleague, boss or customer. Such situations may actually warrant being ‘dishonest’.

In such cases, you have to weigh the benefits achieved by being honest with those achieved by being dishonest. “Sometimes, to make a team run smoothly, you have to fib to avoid hurting people’s feelings and make them feel like contributors,” says Anuj.

“Sometimes, I say things like ‘I like your suit’ to a person before a presentation or interview, just to boost the other person’s confidence. It may be a lie, but if it helps them do better, it helps the team,” reveals Mitali. Eventually, it all boils down to knowing how to deal with some people’s individual personalities.

Written by Bhushan Kulkarni

March 12, 2007 at 5:22 am

Posted in Management

Tagged with ,

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