Dishonesty in the Workplace

Dishonesty in the workplace takes two main forms – lying and stealing, and both are more common than many of us would like to think.

Everyday examples of lying in the workplace include embellishing the truth on personal resumes and company track records; suggesting to customers that a product is better than it actually is; and promising bonuses to team members which never seem to arrive.

So deeply entrenched in business life are these practices, it seems only a brave or foolhardy person would go up against them.

If everyone else is embellishing their resumes or company track records to get that job or contract, how can you not do the same?

If your competitors are selling a record number of products by promoting that product’s not-so-true virtues, what are you meant to do – go broke telling the truth?

And how else can you motivate a disgruntled team member than by dangling a carrot which never gets any closer?

It’s easy to say, “Everyone else is doing it, so I‘ll do it, too.” It’s much harder to take an ethical stand and insist on honesty.

But that - suggests Tom Terez, author of 22 Ways To Create A Meaningful Workplace (Adams Media Corporation, 2000) - is exactly what you must do if you want and expect honesty from your team members.

Surveys in America have conclusively proved that employees of any business tend to mimic the behavior - or perceived behavior - of the company’s management.

If management is prepared to distort the truth, bend the rules, or make undeliverable promises, why should team members do any differently?

Ditto for stealing. If the boss thinks it’s okay to raid the stationery locker every now and then, and take a couple of writing pads or a clutch of pens home to his kids, why should a sales clerk get into trouble for doing the same?

Nothing destroys morale among team members faster than “one rule for the boss, another rule for everyone else”.

As Tom Terez pointed out in an interview on the website, “People begin to question why they have to follow certain expectations when the boss doesn’t.”

But how do you stand tall and ask your team members to do the same when all around you, people seem to be lying, cheating, stealing, and doing anything else they think will put them ahead of the competition?

Case histories from human resource companies and business consultancies in America, Australia, and the United Kingdom suggest one good way would be to imagine the logical consequences of any action.

Embellishing your resume or company track record might not seem like such a big deal - until you realize how many people who rose to the top by this method also came crashing down when their lies were detected or it was discovered they couldn’t actually do what they said they could. 

Singing the praises of a product that doesn’t make the grade may be quick route to short-term profit – but customers will eventually find out the product is no good and will lose faith in you.

Promising your team members bonuses you can’t deliver might make them work harder in the short-term, but commerce is littered with the wreckage of companies which used that tactic.

If team members seem to be habitually lying in your business, HR consultant, Roberta Chinsky Matuson, suggests having a good, hard look at your company rules.

“Sometimes, unfair rules back people into corners,” she told Kathy Thomas-Massey on an website interview. 

“If a company has a policy that penalizes people for staying home with their sick kids [for example], they’re going to call in and lie about why they can’t come to work. Fix the rules and you’ll probably fix the problem.”

And what about stealing? Australia-based Safety, Security and Manufacturing suggests one way to reduce the incidence of workplace theft is to increase employee awareness with educational programs.

“Make it clear that you won’t tolerate theft and that employees will face discipline up to and including termination [if caught]. Let them know there are measures in place to detect theft,” the organization says.

Such measures can include anything from improved inventory control to video surveillance.

Of course, you need to distinguish between petty pilfering and major crime. If someone is nicking the odd batch of pens, you probably only need to remind them the pens are company property paid for by company funds – and make sure your own actions aren’t inspiring a trend.

If you’re not sure who the culprit is or have no real evidence with which to confront anyone, it’s better to direct a general warning to all team members than to target any one person with suspicions.

Theft of cash, equipment, or company software is a serious crime and should be reported to the police, who will also advise on theft prevention strategies.

Useful Internet resources include:
Workplace Dishonesty




Copyright 2006, RAN ONE Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from

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