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Combating Workplace Dishonesty

Combating Workplace Dishonesty

by Helen Young*

Dishonesty of one form or another seems to be a pretty integral part of many workplaces: many job applicants stretch the truth on their resumes; customer service reps may lie to placate upset customers; managers may promise bonuses, promotions, or other rewards to employees, and then never deliver on their promises. And then there’s the simple fact that it’s common practice for companies to be less than forthcoming about the defects or disadvantages of the products they sell.

Whatever the form that dishonesty takes, it’s so commonplace that weeding it out of the workplace is difficult. After all, if your competitors are doing it, it’s hard to take a stand, simply because it puts you at a disadvantage. The thing is, dishonesty of one kind inevitably leads to other kinds of dishonesty. If company practice involves stretching the truth about its products, it’s an unspoken acknowledgment that in this workplace, honesty isn’t the best policy. And if management routinely makes promises they have no intention of keeping, it’s a signal to other employees that management isn’t trustworthy, and that employees aren’t valued.

Lying and Theft

The two most common forms of workplace dishonesty are lying and theft, and they’re both a lot more common than most people think. In fact, according to one study, people tell at least one lie every day, and hear up to 200 more. And while advertising might be the main source of the lies and misinformation we here, there’s no doubt that most people are hearing lies at work too.

For most of us, the lies we tell are limited to those that are mostly harmless, told to spare someone else’s feelings, to save face, or to avoid responsibility for a decision or a mistake. But while those lies might be mostly harmless, at work they’re not always completely so. An employee who lies to avoid shouldering blame or censure for a mistake may inadvertently or purposely shift the blame to someone else. A new employee who lied about the extent of their skills at a job interview might end up making expensive errors due to their lack of experience. While it’s true that most lies are fairly harmless, it’s also true that some lies definitely do lead to workplace problems, whether it’s the waste of money or resources, or the cause of bad feeling amongst employees.

Then there’s theft, which like lying is typically limited to small and fairly harmless thefts—of office stationery, for example—but occasionally means serious theft of equipment or money. While the latter kind doesn’t always have anything to do with company culture, the former is definitely more common in a company culture that doesn’t prioritize honesty.

Creating a Culture of Honesty

Very few things destroy employee morale faster than a workplace culture in which there’s one rule for management, and another for everyone else. If your company employs one or more managers who are less than honest, or less than transparent with the people under them, then it’s virtually impossible to successfully integrate honesty into company culture.

It’s always easier to develop the culture you want if you’re starting from the very beginning—with a brand-new company—because once there are problems embedded within company culture, it takes a significant effort to eradicate them. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. When it comes to creating a company culture that’s honest and transparent, the key, as with most aspects of company culture, is that the behavior you want to see in employees has to be modeled by company owners and managers.

Simply put, honesty comes from the top down: if your company behaves with integrity, and if managers treat employees with honesty and respect, then all the company’s employees are far less likely to themselves be dishonest in any aspect of their work.


Bruna Martinuzzi (2013). “Eight Strategies for Handling Lies at Work.” Accessed June 2, 2015.
George Root. “What are the Causes of Dishonesty in the Workplace?” Accessed June 2, 2015.
Rita Milios (2015). “Liar Liar: How to Break Free from Habitual Lying.” Accessed June 2, 2015.
Robert A. Berry (2010). “Practical Steps for Addressing Theft in the Workplace.” Accessed June 2, 2015.
Stewart McKelvey (2013). “Liar, Liar: Dealing with Dishonest Employees.” Accessed June 2, 2015.
Terrence Shulman. “They Owe Me: Workplace Dishonesty in a Changing World.” Accessed June 2, 2015.

*Helen Young, 32, married and a mom of two young girls, has worked in the healthcare sector specializing in mental health. Currently, in addition to writing, she’s a volunteer, working through local charities to support those with depression and anxiety issues.



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