lying in the workplace, part 1

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Years ago I supervised two young women on two different projects.  Both were about three years removed from college; I was a new manager being given some guidance by an older and almost comically disinterested manager.  The two young women had a problem in common, even though they worked on separate clients and seldom crossed paths.  Both were liars.

Both had a problem which is common to the field of auditing. Imagine you have a document to audit – an invoice, for example.  Your audit test may be something as complicated as tracing prices back to authorized price tables, or something as simple as verifying that the person who was supposed to sign the invoice actually did.  If everything is fine, you put a note in the audit workpapers saying “no exception.”  If you find problems, you put a note about the exception.  What you don’t do is say everything is fine without checking to make sure it is fine.

Both women had done something along these lines.  I’ll call one Mary and the other Veronica.  Mary lied because she often didn’t understand what she was doing. Mary would look at her assignment and miss the point.  I would explain it to her, or another manager would, and she’d miss the point again.  To start covering for her lack of comprehension, she simply glossed over problems.  She lied to make everything look fine.  But she always was hard at work, and deliberate to a fault.

Veronica, on the other hand, was young and gung ho. She was in a rush, hurrying through her jobs and trying to look fiercely efficient.  She was sometimes sloppy – maybe she’d look at 30 documents and then assume the other 10 were fine.  She’d take a calculated gamble that she wouldn’t miss an exception.  She lied to make herself look fine.

Both were caught. I caught them, the senior manager I was working with caught them, and tears were shed.  Both pleaded for their jobs.  I was still too young to understand myself that the loss of a job is not the end of one’s life.  There will be another job.  But both women were distraught.  They made promises, they begged.  One was fired, and one was not.

I know who was fired, but I wonder what you think. Mary struggled, but she only needed more help.  Maybe a lot, but she was always trying to do her best.  Veronica didn’t struggle – she knew what she was doing and was a driven and focused young woman.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about the outcome.

Photos by Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, Texas A&M