08.11.06 - Issue # 231 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

Dealing With Employee "Lies"


Dr. Nancy Haller
Dentist Coach
McKenzie Management
coach@ mckenziemgmt.com
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In a perfect world, everyone would tell the truth. But at some point you will be confronted with an employee who lies. It may not be as scandalous as Floyd Landis’ protestations of innocence, but it’s important to have a plan about how you will deal with the untruths that pass through your office.

A study of more than 2,500 workers by CareerBuilder.com showed that about 13% of American workers show up late for work at least once a week, and about 25% are late at least once a month. Of those numbers, one in five people said that they make up lies to tell their boss.

The range of potential lies varies from failure to follow policies or rules, to excessive tardiness, to theft. Separate lies from fibs. That is, some lies aren’t worth a second thought. I’m talking about good performers who occasionally stretch the truth to save face and protect their relationship with you. Their claims of ‘traffic was heavier than I expected this morning’ should be dismissed if it happens only once in a while.
Unfortunately not all lies are so harmless. How about the chronic offenders? The employee who is constantly late and always has an excuse? The person with the routine flat tires or the alarm clock that fails on a regular basis? If you dismiss those ‘lies’, you give permission for him/her to take deception to a new level. 
Indeed there are two categories of serious lying that you need to confront – serial but inconsequential lies, and big lies. Intervening early is the key to both.

  • Be direct. Encourage your staff to be honest with you, to tell the truth, even on trivial issues. Only then will you be able to trust them on larger matters.

To the employee who always offers excuses, consider the following:
“Jane, I have a hard time believing what you are telling me. You're chronically late and you continue to tell me that traffic was heavy (or you had another flat tire, or your alarm didn’t go off, etc). No one can have that much bad luck. Now, tell me what's really going on. Perhaps together we can fix the problem. I want to help you but I need to know the truth.”

  • When you suspect a lie of a larger magnitude, investigate first.

Only in a true emergency should you act without thorough planning. It may take time and resources, but it’s important that you gather the facts and determine what action is necessary before talking to the employee. If the offense is serious, get guidance from a legal perspective.

  • Once you know the details, prepare.

Think through what you want to say to the employee and in what sequence. Practice by role playing. Anticipate the likely reactions and responses. Know your own communication style, how you are perceived, and how you will react in the event of a challenge or emotional outburst. Knowing what you intend to cover in a face-to-face meeting and sticking to the agenda is much easier if you have planned in advance.

  • Confront the employee privately. Have a witness.

Identify the problem as you understand it. Be brief but specific. Then offer the employee an opportunity to present their side. There may be a factor you didn't know about that will help the two of you to solve a problem jointly. Refusing to listen just builds resentment and makes improvement difficult. Be fair to the employee. Consider his or her side of the story and any evidence submitted. Never criticize the individual, but rather focus on the actual behavior. Avoid using the word ‘liar’ as it will enflame the situation. Advise the employee of the consequences of his/her actions. It may be a suspension, or even a termination.

  • Document.

There often is a misunderstanding about what and when to document. All disciplinary infractions should be recorded in some form. For minor, first-time offenses, write a note to remind yourself. The employee need not know about this, and it does not require formal entry into a personnel file. If the problem reoccurs or if it is a serious offense, be sure to formalize the process by having the employee sign the document. 

  • Be confident you made the right decision.

Lies are difficult to deal with. You are going to feel drained. Give yourself credit for having the courage to tackle a difficult situation. And remember, if you want to minimize your staff lying to you, never lie to them and always deal with lies when they happen. 


If you are interested in improving your performance as a “boss”, Contact Dr. Haller at coach@mckenziemgmt.com.

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