Should You Ever Lie to Your Boss?
By Rachel Zupek
Lying in any capacity is generally not advised — especially at work. More often than not, your lies will catch up to you or run away from you. Either way, you’re left in the dust, with a pink slip likely in your hand.
We’ve talked about lying in an interview, at work or on your résumé, but what about when it comes to lying to your boss? Are there exceptions to the rule?
Shawn Achor, a consultant and psychology expert, says that in every workplace where he has consulted, he’s found that most people lie when there is no “psychological safety.”
“There is no psychological safety when managers don’t allow humans to be humans — i.e., to make mistakes and to not be perfect,” Achor says. “If a manager is unable to hear about negative things, confusion or setbacks, then that manager is going to get lied to often. Good managers want an accurate assessment of the present, even if it is not good. Bad bosses want the semblance of progress in the present, at the cost of future successes.”
Even if this sounds like a position you’re in, it doesn’t mean that it’s acceptable for you to lie, says Mark Goulston, author of “Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone.”
“Other than telling your boss something they’re wearing looks nice when it doesn’t, or that they spoke clearly when they didn’t, I can’t think of any instances where it’s OK to lie to a boss. I can think of many instances where you can get away with it, especially when most bosses don’t tell the complete truth,” Goulston says. “I think of those as fibs. The problem is that what starts out as a little bad habit can become a way of life. If you start with a few little fibs, it can be a slippery slope until you’re always doing it.”
Whether or not it’s OK to lie to your boss, workers will do it anyway. Here are five common situations when workers are tempted to lie and whether or not they should tell the truth:
Situation No. 1: The boss asks you to do something that you don’t want to do
Should you lie? It’s OK to fib about this to your boss and say you’re “happy” to do something for him or her, even if you’re not. Doing so shows your boss that you’re a team player and you’ll do whatever it takes to help the company succeed.
“Try to adjust your mindset to being appreciative about something in your job or that you even have a job, to make the ‘happy’ be sincere. In other words, let your happiness to have a job supersede your unhappiness at having to do any task that comes with it,” Goulston says. “Also, realize that it will work out much better for you if you are low-maintenance — easy to please, difficult to upset — than if you are high-maintenance — difficult to please, easy to upset.”
Situation No. 2: You overslept and are late to work
Should you lie? It depends — telling your boss your alarm didn’t go off (when you actually turned it off and went back to bed) might be an acceptable explanation, Goulston says — but only once.
“Use it twice and it becomes an excuse; use it more than twice and you’re running the risk of being seen as disorganized [and] irresponsible, which can work against you at review time,” he says.
Situation No. 3: You’re confused about a project, but say you don’t have any questions to save face
Should you lie? It’s OK to tell your boss that you don’t have any questions when you really do, but only if you know you will be able to get an answer from someone else, Goulston says. If you don’t get an answer, however, and it leads to you doing something wrong, you risk getting pounced on later.
“A way to speak back respectfully and appreciatively to whoever gives you the order is to say, ‘This is too important for me to misunderstand what you said, because neither you nor I will be happy if I end up doing the wrong thing. Would you please repeat what you said or say it in a different way?'” Goulston suggests.
Situation No. 4: You’re behind on a project, but say you’re on track to avoid getting in trouble
Should you lie? If this is the only time you’ve been behind on a project, it’s OK to say you’re on track, Goulston says. That is, if you think you’ll be able to finish the project by its deadline. But, if you repeatedly lie about being on schedule and you miss deadlines, you run the risk of being seen as disorganized, irresponsible or unreliable.
“You don’t want to take that chance because your boss can quickly put you in the same category as others they view that way,” he says. “And you don’t want to be painted with the same brush as people your boss regards as slackers.”
Situation No. 5: You call in sick, but really, you just want a day off
Should you lie? If you need a day off, it’s best to just be honest and ask for one. “If you’re like many people, calling in sick may cause you fear of being found out or guilt that you’ve lied, which can take the enjoyment out of that day off,” Goulston says. “That would defeat the purpose.”
At the end of the day, Goulston suggests remembering that although your boss might be upset at first, he or she will forgive an honest mistake. But, your boss will never forgive or forget if you lie about it.