‘Leading through fear creates a lying culture’, warns expert
Ninety-two per cent of HR professionals think they are lied to every week, according to an exclusive survey by People Management.
In PM’s online poll of 820 HR people, almost a third believed that they were being told more lies than two or three years ago, while staff in sectors such as travel and construction were flagged as the least trustworthy.
Survey responses suggest that people working in the travel and leisure sector are the most likely to tell a fib: 29.7 per cent said these professionals tell more than 11 lies a week. Employees in construction, and the energy and utilities sectors were not far behind in the deception stakes, notching up 27.5 and 26.7 per cent of the vote, respectively, for appearing to spout more than 11 lies a week.
Surprisingly, two sectors that are often believed to be averse to the truth bucked the expected trend. Only 23.6 per cent thought that banking sector workers told more than 11 porkies a week, while media staff were practically deemed paragons of virtue in comparison with only 15.2 per cent.
However, HR professionals believed themselves to be the most honest, with 41 per cent claiming they told no lies at all and 49.9 per cent reporting they only told between one and four lies a week.
Roger Steare, leading ethicist and corporate philosopher at Cass Business School, told PM: “Anyone who says they never lie is deluded. If we were completely honest with everyone about everything we felt and thought all the time what would the world be like? We would probably end up killing each other.”
Steare explained that people “modify” their perception of the truth to maintain lasting relationships. But there’s a difference, he said, between lies to maintain co-operative relationships and deceptions for personal gain.
“The problem we have in many workplaces is that people are driven by fear more than they are than by higher ideals. People are scared of the truth because we’re afraid of speaking up to someone who has power or authority over our life in the business. “We know that most of the corporate disasters we are facing are because people who knew what was going on were scared to speak up,” Steare said.
Organisations where bosses “lead through fear” create a lying culture, where everybody is afraid of the truth, termed ‘willful blindness’ in America, he warned.
Steare said leaders need to create an open working environment where people feel safe to speak up and challenge something they believe is wrong.
“Research outlined in the report ‘Firms of Endearment’, on the most successful businesses in the long term showed that they have very open meritocratic honest cultures, for example BMW, Ikea, South West Airlines and Google. If you are an innovative company you can’t have a culture of deceit. People are able to say this isn’t working and we need to fix it before it’s terminal for the business.”
This month People Management has been focusing on lies in the workplace and has found that some businesses have been using polygraph tests to check the veracity of staff. Bosses are using lie detectors to vet job candidates for drink and drug problems as well as criminal convictions, while others use it to root out staff who have leaked confidential information or committed fraud. We also heard an astonishing array of lies told to HR professionals, from the employee who claimed to have ‘caught’ Gulf War Syndrome to the accountant who passed his professional exams aged 14.
Commenting on the PM survey, Steare said: “People’s perceptions about lying are often very different to reality – my psychometric research shows there has been no moral decay in the UK.”
Steare’s MoralDNA research, with more than 80,000 subjects, shows that the most trusted professions involve religion, real estate, the health service and law enforcement, which is why we are so shocked when people in these roles do something wrong. Workplaces with the least morality were found in the telecoms and technology sectors, utilities and bureaucracies including government and media.