Office Lies

Truth Be Told


Call me naive, but I honestly never thought phrases like post-truth, fake news and alternative facts would ever be part of anyone’s vocabulary. Now they are part of everyone’s. 

It’s not that the concept of lying is anything new. Stretching the truth has been a human foible since Adam and Eve. But, no matter how elastic the truth might be, the thought never occurred to me that it wasn’t even a real thing; that truth didn’t even exist if we decided we didn’t like it.

So, given the fact that a lot of folks have been sliding down this slippery slope of late, what’s the current attitude toward truth in the modern workplace?

From advertising hyperbole to overblown annual report copy, we certainly accept a certain level of “strategic misrepresentation” as a normal part of business culture. That’s what Christopher Cerf, co-author of “Spinglish: The Definitive Dictionary of Deliberately Deceptive Language,” claims is “a Harvard Business School term for the tactic of hiding facts, bluffing, or lying during a business negotiation.” Workplace lies range from fairly benign and perhaps even socially constructive fibs to destructive and outright intentional deceit. A Forbes article with a roundup of the 10 most common types of workplace lies is worth checking out.

HR is definitely one of the culprits. Organizations don’t lay off people, they “downsize,” “right-size” or have a “reduction in force.” Promised promotions disappear right along with the “wonderful work-life balance” touted in the interview that turns out to mean 60-hour workweeks and being accessible to your boss 24/7 on your cell phone. In a LinkedIn article, Liz Ryan, founder and CEO of Human Workplace, also offered several all-too-common examples of lies people hear during their job search.

While I don’t have direct figures (or facts, alternative or otherwise) to back up this statement, I believe all this playing fast and loose with the truth has increased distrust, lowered engagement, lessened accountability, raised turnover and reduced productivity.

Those are very high stakes in today’s talent economy. When it comes to attracting and retaining an innovative and competitive workforce, I think you’ll find the best people want to be associated with transparent organizations that tell the truth. I know I do. Honest.

Diane Landsman

Written by: Diane Landsman

Diane Landsman is familiar to many in the HR community as a former editorial director at Human Capital Media. Now an independent communications strategist, writer and editor she helps enterprises educate, engage, influence and sometimes even entertain their audiences. Her specialty is crafting original content across media channels, from websites that attract searchers and keep them engaged to email campaigns, articles that put organizations on the map, and executive-level whitepapers, speeches, and op/ed pieces.


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