Is it Ever Okay to Lie at Work?

Is it Ever Okay to Lie at Work?

Is it Ever Okay to Lie at Work?

We tell all sorts of lies at work.

We flatter, exaggerate, omit, and mislead -- primarily to avoid punishment, to make ourselves look better, to control information, or to protect others.

Some of our workplace lies trigger feelings of anxiety, guilt, or remorse. But there are other lies that many of us feel justified in telling.

Several years ago I wrote, “The Truth About Lies in the Workplace: How to Spot Liars and How to Deal with Them.” At that time, I surveyed 547 business professionals about a variety of workplace deception issues. When I asked if it was ever okay to lie at work, I found that most people said "yes!" -- under some circumstances. Here is what people told me: It's okay to lie . . .

1. When there are workplace policies that “create” liars.

"I’ll say I’m sick when what I really need is a sanity break. But why can’t employees take a mental health day? Why make us lie about it?"

2. When the boss can’t handle the truth.

"Have you ever tried telling your boss the bad news? I did once and I’m still suffering the repercussions. Never again!"

3. When the manager shows favoritism.

"The minute we saw how the manager plays favorites, we all felt pressured to 'suck up.'"

4. When the culture doesn’t accept mistakes.

"If mistakes aren’t allowed, it’s okay to say you never make them."

5. To avoid unnecessary meetings.

"When I’m at a meeting and find I am wasting my time, I leave saying I have to attend another meeting. I also lie about my agenda when I don’t want to attend meetings. Or sometimes I will pretend to forget a meeting. However, I use this technique only for meetings I view as a waste of my time. I do attend important meetings."

6. When leaders lie.

"I wasn't a liar until I started working for a company with a toxic senior management team. It is common knowledge that they tell lies about their own schedules (working from home, showing up late, taking long lunches, etc.). Now I think it only fair that I do the same."

7. When it is perceived as a “career-limiting” move to be honest.

"I said I resigned for 'professional growth reasons.' It would have been career suicide to tell the truth."

Now I'm asking you: Is it ever okay to tell lies at work? And if so, when?

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Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D.

Leadership Expert

Carol is an international keynote speaker at conferences, business organizations, government agencies, and universities. She addresses a variety of leadership issues, but specializes in helping leaders build their impact and influence skills for fostering collaboration, building trust, and projecting that illusive quality called "leadership presence." She is the author of "STAND OUT: How to Build Your Leadership Presence." and the creator of LinkedIn Learning's video course, "Body Language for Leaders." Carol completed her doctorate in the United States. She can be reached at

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