Half of UK employees admit to lying at work, poll shows

Covid has made culture and authenticity even more vital, experts say, with staff worried about their jobs particularly prone to hiding mistakes or trying to keep bosses happy

Nearly half of UK employees have lied at work, a poll has revealed, with many doing so to hide mistakes or avoid getting into trouble. 

A survey of over 1,000 workers by Glassdoor found 49 per cent admitted to lying at work. Of these, 44 per cent said they did so to avoid getting into trouble, while over a third (34 per cent) lied to hide mistakes. 

The survey also found many employees lied so as not to “stand out” in the office. Two in five (40 per cent) who lied at work did so because it was “easier to agree with the majority,” and almost a quarter (24 per cent) said they lied because their boss or colleagues did not “like to hear diverse opinions”. 

Nearly a fifth (17 per cent) said they lied at work because they did not like giving honest feedback to colleagues. 

Joe Wiggins, director of corporate communications at Glassdoor, said it was concerning so many admitted to lying at work – especially to cover up mistakes – noting that trustworthiness, integrity and good judgment were attributes an employer would “naturally look for in its employees”. 

“It also begs the question: are enough employers encouraging an environment where people feel comfortable with transparency?” Wiggins said. “If there is a culture of peer pressure or an environment where diversity of thought is not valued and nurtured, this leads to people masking their true feelings, which could lead to more systemic deceptions as well as bias.” 

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The poll found 22 per cent of employees thought lying at work was acceptable, while nearly two in five (39 per cent) felt lying was commonplace where they worked. Three-quarters (75 per cent) believed that saying what they really thought could get them in trouble, and 56 per cent admitted to hiding their true feelings at work.

Jonny Gifford, senior adviser on organisational behaviour at the CIPD, cited previous CIPD research that found people were more likely to behave unethically at work if faced with unrealistic goals, time pressures or other work pressures.

He explained employers could combat such behaviour by holding workers and leaders to account as well as being clear about acceptable practices. "We can understand where the pressure points are within people's working lives," Gifford said. "So we can identify when people are more likely to behave unethically, and we can target communications to remind people that it is really important that their work is accurate during those critical points." 

It was also important to consider the "norms of behaviours" within an organisation, Gifford said. "When there is a lot of organisational politics or managers or leaders who clearly don't care about being ethical, that has a big influence on individual employees and how they behave,” he said.

According to the survey, three-quarters (75 per cent) of employees valued authenticity at work, but only half (54 per cent) felt their employer valued this attribute among workers. Similarly, 72 per cent said authenticity at work created a strong culture, and 77 per cent said it built better relationships with colleagues and customers. 

Paul Holcroft, associate director at Croner, said authenticity and organisational culture had become “arguably all the more crucial” since the coronavirus outbreak had shaken the world of work “to its core”. He warned staff could now be even more inclined to lie in some circumstances because of fears about losing their jobs.

“These figures are therefore likely to be concerning for employers. After all, if the first instinct of an employee is to lie about an issue or mistake, this problem doesn’t just vanish,” Holcroft said. “It is therefore crucial for employers to consider why this may be. Do staff feel they will be unfairly penalised or even ignored if they are truthful with management and, if so, is there an overall issue that needs to be addressed?”

Holcroft added that lying at work could have serious repercussions for employees, including the individual being dismissed. But this would depend on the lie in question, and simply talking to someone instead of resorting to disciplinary action could solve the problem, he said.

“Employers are more likely to want to take serious action if an employee lies about taking a day off work, but could consider a less formal response if an employee has, for example, forgotten to action a small task allocated to them and tries to hide this,” Holcroft said.