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At Work, Nobody Wins the Lying Game

By Larry Buhl, Yahoo Hot Jobs – 02/14/2008 – 12:00am

Lying is something we all must watch out for, especially in the workplace. Sometimes the fib is small, such as a boss fudging on an expense report or a coworker taking credit for your work. But a lie covering up a company’s financial health can bring down a giant corporation, as ex-Enron employees can attest.

“Even though lying doesn’t have the negative connotations it once did, telling lies in the workplace is not a trivial matter,” according to professor Pier Forni, cofounder of the Civility Initiative at Johns Hopkins University and author of “Choosing Civility, the 25 Rules of Considerate Conduct.”

The Fallout Reaches Far

Forni told Yahoo! HotJobs that even small lies can have a dramatic effect on the quality of life in the workplace, including:

  • Lower morale, especially when the boss does it
  • Increased stress, due to uncertainty
  • Decreased loyalty to the company, making workers feel unimportant

What’s more, discovering a lie, big or small, can put you in an ethical quandary and even career jeopardy. Whether to ignore it or report it is a highly personal decision, according to etiquette expert Sue Fox, author of “Business Etiquette for Dummies.”

“Unfortunately there are no blanket rules that apply to all incidents of lying and misinformation in the workplace,” Fox says. “How to deal with it depends on the unique circumstances, as well as your own values.”

Staying Out of Harm’s Way

Fox and Forni give some general pointers, outlined below, for dealing with lies in the office.

Be a sleuth. Verify a lie before you do anything. If you don’t have time to do some sleuthing, let it go.

Determine the importance of the lie. “When the lie clearly hurts the company by ignoring it, then there is a probability that it will have a snowball effect and the damage will grow,” Forni said.

Consult the company’s handbook. Larger companies will have policies and procedures documents for combating unethical behavior. If your company has them, follow them.

Keep records. Fox urges recording all incidents of unethical behavior with coworkers, especially when your boss demands an employee to do something unethical. “Keep your responses to those requests, and keep your records at home, where they can’t be discovered or stolen.”

Divest yourself. “Direct your concerns to either your boss or HR, so that correcting the problem is the supervisor’s (or the company’s) responsibility, not yours,” Fox says. Forni recommends cultivating smart and trustworthy mentors in the organization who can deal with the issue for you.

Protect yourself. “Find an attorney if your boss’ ethical breaches are very large,” Forni says.

Consider the ramifications. Remember, whistle blowers could be rewarded, and they could be punished. Both Forni and Fox agree that it’s a personal decision, but they come down on the side of disclosing a lie. “We sometimes have to decide between the easy thing and the right thing, but the latter is often more satisfying,” Forni said.

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