Corporate culture encourages lying

Mar 08 2005 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Britain's workplaces are hotbeds of lies and Chinese whispers, a new survey suggests, with employees feeling obliged to lie because they lack the information and support they need to do their jobs properly.

A survey carried out by pollsters YouGov for software giant Microsoft has found that three quarters of workers feel they are forced to lie at work, with over half owning up to what Microsoft euphemistically terms "blagging".

Not that this circle of deceit seems to be benefiting anybody. Eight out of 10 respondents said that "blagging" was stressful, two-thirds said that it only created more work for themselves and more than half think it undermines colleague’s trust in them.

But Microsoft also argues that the rot starts at the top, accusing UK companies of creating cultures in which staff feel obliged to lie to cover shortcomings in their work.

Microsoft's Mike Pryke-Smith said that firms often failed to provide the right information to enable staff to do their jobs properly and imposed unreasonable deadlines.

According to the survey, almost two-thirds of people blamed a lack of information for their "blagging", while half felt under unreasonable time pressures and almost a quarter were not sure that the information they were expect to act upon was correct.

"If workers are regularly forced to act on incomplete information in unreasonable timeframes, as their answers reveal, then how can management know they are acting correctly?" Pryke-Smith asked.

The survey also uncovers what it terms "ascending Chinese whispers" in which lies get passed up an organisation's hierarchy.

One in five employees would lie to their boss or their colleagues, it found, but only one in 10 to their subordinates.

"This further increases the likelihood that those people at the top of chain will make serious business decisions built on a precarious tower of flawed logic and spun answers," Pryke-Smith said.

Separate research published last month by the Aziz Corporation also suggests that the rot starts at the top, revealing a surprisingly ambivalent attitude amongst Britain's bosses towards the honesty – or otherwise - of their staff.

The annual Aziz Management Communications Index found that the vast majority of company directors and senior managers believe it is wrong for their employees to lie to them. But almost half are comfortable with those same employees telling untruths on their behalf to their customers – with female bosses even more tolerant of this sort of behaviour than their male colleagues.

But as Mike Pryke-Smith points out: "the post-Enron and WorldCom climate means that companies need to be transparent. Blagging clearly isn’t, and shouldn’t, be tolerated.”

Of course being Microsoft, the antidote to corporate cultures that inadvertently encourage decision-making on this dubious basis are technology-based process that creates permanent digital records and maintain the integrity of the information on which those decisions are based.

“In order to face the 21st century global economy with confidence, technology tools that destroy silos and share information are vital," Pryke-Smith added.

"With these solutions now available, workers need to be aware that this will mean that bosses will have tools that can catch them out. Although every employee’s move won’t be watched, the ability to track back and undercover wrongdoing is now available.

"I would not say that technology is the silver bullet than can entirely solve the problem; management attitudes must also change," he said.