Lying to Your Boss: Should You?

Posted by Working World Advice - 21/02/10 at 02:02 pm

Careerbuilder just recently published an article on lying to your boss. And they’re right, you really shouldn’t lie to your boss. Yet, I can’t name one person who hasn’t told a lie (even if it’s a small white lie) to their boss at one point or another. So where would you draw the line?

I am in no way saying you should lie to your boss. You shouldn’t. But let’s get real – no one tells the truth all the time. So when is it ok to bend reality and when should you never try? These are my thoughts.

Small Lies

I see small lies, like saying you’re happy to work on a project when you’re not or that you like doing something that you don’t, as things that happen on a regular basis. You’re not going to be happy working on everything, particularly if it’s outside of your job scope, and most bosses understand that. But, if you say no, you’ll look like you’re not a team player and that you’re not willing to help out and take on other projects. This definitely can hurt you if it happens often, since your boss can start to think that there are other people out there that are willing to do more. However, if you’re saying you like doing something that you don’t often enough, it may become commonplace: your boss can take advantage of the fact that you never say  “no” or it may become a regular part of your job. My tip is to go ahead and say you’re happy doing it the first few times your boss asks.  If it starts happening more often, let your boss know that this request is happening more often and is taking up your time that needs to be spent on other, more important/time sensitive/etc. projects. If there is someone else you can recommend to take over the project full-time, this is the time to do it. Coming up with a solution and offering to train that person showcases your leadership ability.

Medium Lies

Some examples of what I call “medium lies” can be why you’re late for work, calling in sick just for a day off, saying that you’re on-time to hit a deadline when you’re not (but can still catch up). Let’s hit these one at a time. No boss wants you to be late. There’s a schedule for a reason. But, if you’re late once in a while, you can blame it on traffic, oversleeping, or no alarm. If this happens regularly (even once a month) you’ll start looking unreliable and unprofessional. Or, if they catch you in the lie because they overhear you telling a co-worker you’ll look like a liar and a sneak. Make it easier on yourself and be on time.

I’ve seen lots of things where you shouldn’t call in sick when you need a day off. While I understand, I’ve had many bosses who have not let me take a day off. I’d receive 3 weeks of vacation time a year but would get guilt-trips before and after my trip, phone calls during my time off, or they would just say “no”. They were my boss, they could do that. However, if I called in “sick,” I’d be able to relax for the day and go in refreshed the next day. So, I’ve been in this situation. Here’s the thing: if you get caught doing it, you can get into a lot of trouble. Plus, if you do it too often (even once a month) your boss will know what you’re doing and will make you come in anyway. I had an employee who used the excuse so many times over a period of 3 months that I started making her bring in a doctor’s note. I say use this sparingly but don’t beat yourself up if you just need a day off.

Deadlines. Some of us just don’t work well unless there’s pressure. And sometimes the deadline you gave yourself wasn’t all that feasible. My first suggestion is, if you need help, this is the time to ask for it. You can say that you aren’t on track and need some additional help to meet your deadline. However, if you don’t feel like you can tell your boss this and you know that no matter what you’ll make the deadline, I see no problem in telling your boss you’re on schedule. But, if you lie, YOU MUST MAKE THAT DEADLINE. Otherwise, you’ll look unreliable and your boss will want to know why you didn’t ask for help. If you can’t hit the deadline, this “middle lie” turns into the “huge” lie below.

Big, Huge Lies

These are the big hairy situations where telling a lie makes it seem so much easier but is the worst thing you can do. Trust me, telling one of these lies and then getting caught is definitely the worse thing you can do. And more often than not, you will get caught.

Missed Appointments: You had an appointment with a client or potential client and did a no-call no-show. ‘Fess up now. Your boss will find out and it’s going to be hell on earth for a while if it’s a big (or potentially big) client. Same thing if you’ve missed a big meeting. Just get the “scolding” done now because it will be a hell of a lot worse later on.

Big Projects: Whether it’s missed deadlines, big delays, going over budget, or anything else, a big project is not something you want to lie to your boss about. Even small projects can be hairy, don’t mess with the big ones. As soon as you see a problem, talk to your boss. Don’t try to sweep it under the rug, it’ll get out and bite you in the ass.

Mistakes: Small or large, mistakes are some of the hardest thing to own up to but coming clean can give you a great boost. If it’s a mistake that you can fix, fix it and tell your boss, “Hey, I did X but we found out and fixed it by doing Y.” If it’s a mistake that’s likely to happen again ask if you can send the team an email with what happened and what to watch out for. This shows leadership! If it’s a mistake that you can’t fix, tell your boss ASAP.  Plan to get yelled at, scolded, and lectured (plan for the worst, hope for the best) and be sure to say that “I am really sorry I understand this was unacceptable. It was a mistake that I’ve learned from and it will never happen again.” Most bosses are understanding and will accept this as an apology.

If you get caught lying about any of these, you actually run the risk of being fired. This is when lying is NOT ok. Don’t risk your job, especially in this economy, because you don’t want to swallow your pride and admit you made a mistake. Mistakes happen – lies don’t.

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