Why you tell more lies at work than you think you do

Ever contemplate calling in sick for work on a cold and sleepy morning shortly before you give your head a shake and reluctantly get back to the grind?

Getting caught in a lie at work can be catastrophic for your career — but many people take the risk anyway.

A recent survey found 29 per cent of U.S. workers have called in sick to work without actually being ill.

And according to workplace psychologist Jennifer Newman, even if you've never played hookie, you might be telling more fibs than you think.

She appeared CBC's The Early Edition to help separate fact from fiction.

Stephen Quinn: Lying is unethical behaviour at work, yet many workers are guilty of it. Why is that?

Jennifer Newman: It's because a lot of lying on the job is relationship-based. Cheating, stealing, or calling in sick when you're not is unethical.

Workers are fired for things like stealing from the till or abusing sick time. But, the majority of lies at work are designed to protect a social identity.

Workers lie to continue seeing themselves in a positive light and to be held in high esteem by others.

What types of lies do workers tell when they're protecting their social identities?

There are lies to facilitate relationships, like when someone speaks proudly of an accomplishment, and another congratulates them while thinking what they did wasn't that great.

Then there's lies to appear competent

Other lies are meant to save a co-worker's feelings, like when your co-worker made a mistake, and you tell him, "it wasn't that bad," when it did make your colleague look foolish.

So, when are lies at work a no-no?

Anything illegal or unsafe — like saying you followed safety protocols and didn't.

Or, stealing stuff and then covering it up. So, lying for selfish gain will be bad for you in the long run.

There's also lying about things that can harm the company.

What should workers do if they catch a colleague or the boss lying?

Make sure it's a lie and not a mistake or misunderstanding.

Your colleague had to have known the information they were giving wasn't true and they meant to deceive someone.

If it's not a misunderstanding or mistake, decide what harm has come from it.

You may feel harmed, deceived or hurt. But what you are looking for is significant harm to your reputation, ability to do your job, safety or to the organization.

If you decide to discuss the lie, stay away from accusing someone of being a liar.

Describe the situation, the harm and what can be done to rectify matters, like:  When you said you would have the job finished by Tuesday, and it wasn't, the project was backed up and we lost money.

Let's figure this out so we don't go through this again.

But, not all organizations act swiftly when lying is discovered — what's the downside for organizations when lying is allowed to continue?

Lying at work reduces trust and affects long term decision-making. It's difficult to make good decisions based on false information — that's one of the biggest problems.

Alternate facts, glossing over bad news, and making things other than what they are holds organizations and institutions back.

This interview was edited and condensed

With files from CBC's The Early Edition