Managing Employees

How to Handle Lying Employees

Written by Chris Martin for Gaebler Ventures

Even in small businesses, entrepreneurs may come across an employee who is lying. There are certain steps to take when you believe this is happening in your company.

An entrepreneur has plenty of things to worry about.

Getting orders processed quickly and efficiently. Marketing the company to its target audience. Keeping the money flowing regularly enough to meet payroll and pay bills.

No entrepreneur has time to deal with employees who lie to them.

It does happen. Workers may lie about anything from when they arrived at the office to why the company funds aren't appearing in your corporate bank account. These untruths can potentially have a devastating effect on interoffice trust – or even the viability of the company itself.

So what should you do if you suspect that one of your employees is lying to you? Pamela Meyer is the author of Liespotting: Proven Techniques to Detect Deception. She has assembled a list of behaviors that often indicate if a person is being dishonest. This list is compiled from research on facial recognition techniques and interrogation methods drawn from police academies, intelligence training programs, and institutions of higher learning.

These behaviors include:

  • Looking you in the eye for too long (on average, people who are telling the truth make eye contact only about 60% of the time)
  • Sitting very still – or moving only a single body part (like a bouncing knee or a twitching hand)
  • Shrugging one shoulder
  • Wearing a frown or smile that is asymmetrical
  • Touching the mouth or eyes quickly in a fidgety fashion
  • A flash of surprise or anger which is suppressed quickly
  • Repeating phrases or questions (in an attempt to stall for time)
  • Speaking more deliberately and slowly than normal – or talking too much
  • Issuing worthless statements and denials (like "I was busy" or "What exactly do you mean?")

So if your personal lie-detector starts going off, what action should you take? According to Meyer:

Do not call the employee a liar to his or her face. It really doesn't accomplish anything. But it will create or increase tension between the two of you. And if you happen to be wrong, the employee's morale will plummet.

Make a face-to-face appointment. Scientists have determined that most lying is done over the phone. And it's also easy to be dishonest in an email. So sitting down privately with an employee may help bring the truth to light.

Don't interrogate. Maintain your professionalism and give the worker a chance to save face (by claiming to misunderstand the situation, for example). Make sure your questions are open-ended and simple. If he or she is still being evasive, change the subject, reestablish a rapport, and return to the topic from a different direction.

Assemble evidence. Gather the facts in writing if possible. Check computer logs, entry card data, security video, and whatever other objective tools you have at your disposal. Finally, observe the behavior of the suspected liar – and ask other employees about the situation if you can.

Follow through. If you do determine that your employee has lied, you must take action. It can be in the form of a stern verbal warning, a note in the employee's file, formal probation, or worse. If the situation calls for notifying authorities, then do so immediately. If you don't take action, not only does it send a message to your office that lying is okay, but it also may leave you open to a lawsuit by other employees (or by customers, shareholders, or investors if money is involved).

A good entrepreneur tries hard to establish trust with his or her workers. But if one of them violates that trust, it is only fair to the other employees and the company at large that you identify dishonesty and deal with it swiftly. Otherwise, distrust can spread through your company like a virus – leaving you a huge unwanted problem that you'll have to allocate time to dealing with.

Chris Martin has been a professional writer for the last seven years. He is interested in franchises and equity acquisition.

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