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The four types of office liar

Helen Mayson

Office liar

New research from ILM has unveiled some serious ethical slip ups occurring in UK workplaces – and lying took four of the top 10 spots. Helen Mayson rounds up the four most common office liars – and asks what you can do about them

With unethical behaviour in the press so frequently lately, you’d think the UK’s managers would be behaving impeccably at work. But new findings from ILM, unveiled in November 2014, show that bad behaviour is more common at work than you might think.

The findings, which formed part of The Truth about Trust report released earlier in the year, show that unethical behaviour is actually quite common in the office. Of the top 10 most commonly witnessed bad behaviours, lying in some form took four of the top spots. So who are these office fibbers, and what can you do about them?

1. The cover up cad

With seemingly endless bravado, the cover up cad puts more work into masking their mistakes than they do into getting it right in the first place. They’re always looking for a way to shift blame away from them and onto someone else and they’re not afraid of telling a huge lie to achieve that. If anything goes wrong, they’ll never admit it and will even fudge the figures to get through. Sometimes, the behaviour of the cover up cad is just masking a fear that any mistakes they make will be severely punished. In fact, their web of lies is so thick, it’s a miracle they can see what they’re supposed to be doing.

How to deal with them:

First, gently and non-accusingly broach the issue and the fact that they lied to cover it up. Find out why they’re afraid to own up to their mistakes – is it because they think their own manager will instantly jump down their throat? If so, it could be a sign of a toxic culture around failure.

“While it’s important to deal with individual examples of bad behaviour, it’s also crucial to understand the root cause,” says Charles Elvin, CEO of ILM.  “If people are covering-up their mistakes, is this a sign of a blame culture that leaves people afraid to be honest?”

2. The overprotective boss

If you take the word of this boss, then their team are target-busting miracle workers who never set a foot wrong. Any instances where they haven’t overachieved are the result of a poor brief/bad contractor/unexpected technical error, and they can’t possibly be making any mistakes themselves. Although they think they’re doing the best for their team by lying to those higher up about their performance, they’re actually setting themselves up for failure in the future.

How to deal with them:

Not allowing teams to deal with their mistakes can actually be quite damaging – learning from failure is a key way we grow and develop. Employers should encourage managers to acknowledge their team members’ failures, discuss them openly and talk about ways they can improve.

3. The fraud

63% of jobseekers admit to lying or exaggerating on their CVs, according to research from, so this type of office liar could be more common than you might think.

Of the 1,932 UK jobseekers interviewed by over the course of 18 months, 16% falsely claimed to speak another language and 27% inflated their IT skills.

"A manager with suspicions an employee has lied on his CV should be careful not to jump to conclusions,” says Laura O'Neill, an employment lawyer with Maclay Murray & Spens LLP. “They should be investigated properly.  Where an employee admits to the lie, clearly the investigation can be more limited.

"In all cases the business should investigate the nature, scale and impact of the lie.  For example, is the skill being lied about core to the role being carried out?  Would the employee have been offered the role if the real circumstances were known?  Can it be characterised as an oversight?  Is it an embellishment or a complete fabrication?     

"A balancing exercise will be required, which should usually take into account an employee's performance to date."

How to deal with them:

If you find out someone has lied on a CV, it’s a serious matter. Trust is important in professional relationships, and lies on a CV instantly breach that trust before the working relationship has even started.

"Disciplinary action will usually be reasonable even if the employee is a good performer,” says O’Neill. "The employer may even treat this as reasonable grounds for dismissal – for example, where the employee can’t do the job without the particular qualification lied about. The employer may also have lost all trust in the employee which may trigger a break down in “trust and confidence” such that the employer believes it can’t continue the employment. Such a dismissal may be fair but employers should be cautious about going down this route."

4. The credit thief

Totally shameless, the credit thief won’t hesitate to let everyone else do the hard work and swan in at the last moment to take all the praise. Never to be found when talking budgets, project planning or dealing with potential disasters, they’ll always make sure their name is on the presentation meeting to they can soak up the accolades when something goes right – or skip it if things have gone wrong.

A manager who continually steals credit from others can not only be annoying, it can really demoralising for a team. This type of lying needs to be nipped in the bud as soon as possible.

How to deal with them:

There’s not really an excuse for taking credit for other people’s work. If it’s becoming a regular thing, it needs to be broached with the culprit – but sometimes, it’s hard for senior staff to identify when an issue is occurring if no one is willing to speak up. Make sure you speak to all participants on a project, in private if necessary, to see how they felt things went. Ask them about their individual contributions and make sure you reward them with public praise and thanks in the wrap up meeting.

Have you seen any of these liars in your own office? Share your stories below!


  • Katherine McAleer

    In my experience, the 'credit thief' is the most damaging of all liars.  Not only does this type of theft hurt the employee who has completed the work, but it also demoralises the team as a whole.  I think this is a good area of research and discussion for ILM.  In times of budgetary constraints, some employees will do anything to be recognised, even at the expense of others.  Managers need to be engaged, however, this is a challenge for most managers who are already swamped and just need to make sure the work is getting done.  Good area for further research ILM.  Kat

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