Employee Dishonesty Is Not Always Easy To Identify

I recently read an article entitled “How to spot a liar in your inbox” by Vanessa Van Edwards. The article discussed the nuances of how to tell if someone is lying to you in an email. The writer made some interesting observations on the lack of personal pronouns in the body of an email, inconsistency in tense usage and vague language. It dawned on me that often this is the same thing supervisors handle on a regular basis with employees. Think back to a phone call you have taken from an employee calling out of work. Often the conversation goes something like this, “I don’t feel well, I think I am going to have to call out today.” The employee is using language that does not make sense. They “think” they have to call out. Either they do or they don’t have to call out, the decision is theirs to make. Saying “I think” sounds more like asking permission to call out than making a decision of their own. Avoiding responsibility is one way an employee may try to lie without feeling guilty about it.

Another method of avoiding responsibility especially when something has gone wrong is to avoid using “I”. In these situations, a person will often use “we” or “they” to transfer blame away from themselves. I recall a department manager that worked for me and I would ask about why our team was not done with their tasks by a certain timeline. This manager never took responsibility for the pace of the team or their failure to get the job done when the timelines were not met. Rather than have an honest discussion about where his focus had been or what impacted the workflow this manager would say “they weren’t moving quickly” or “there were small boxes and it took longer than “we” thought it would. There was no “we” it was his responsibility but by not using “I” he was trying to shift the blame. My conversations with him were about “MY” expectations and prior discussions “I” had conducted with him (not to mention the discussions I had with my boss). It is not comfortable to have to confront a situation but the only way to effectively deal with a problem is to own what is yours to own and find solutions to a problem. Deflection, avoidance, and excuses never fix anything.

In my role as a Loss Prevention Manager, I frequently encountered situations of people lying to me. Until the futility of their lies became obvious to them many shoplifters would try to shift blame or avoid responsibility for their actions. My friends made me do it or dared me to do it was a great example of this. Catching a dishonest employee and conducting an interview with him/her over their crime was another opportunity to catch someone lying. Rarely would someone admit to what they had done and rarer still was the person who would take outright ownership of their criminal activity. “I don’t know what you are talking about.” was an immediate response to being confronted about theft. It usually took a lot of effort to get to where someone would admit to what they had done. Sometimes the person has to have the facts placed before them to get them to acknowledge wrong-doing.

You may not be dealing with employee theft but you will certainly have to confront employees about incomplete or unsatisfactory assignments and projects. There will also be those times when you have customer service issues that you have to handle. If you do not have the confidence that your employees will be honest with you it may require you to be able to distinguish fact from fiction. Sometimes a manager owns some responsibility when an employee lies to them. The lie is not right but if the manager has made himself unapproachable or is overly critical and harsh in discussing opportunities it becomes understandable. Who wants to talk to a supervisor about a problem they are having if the impression is that they are going to get raked over the coals if they do something wrong? The environment of a workplace can make a difference in the actions of the employees.

Make sure you have an open door policy and are genuinely interested in your employees. If they are going to be deceitful with you make sure you have not contributed to the problem. Then make sure you can recognize some of the signals that someone is attempting to deceive you. The ability to identify deceitful workers can make identifying and dealing with workplace problems much easier for you in the long run.