10 Dumb Lies That Lousy Bosses Tell

Telling the simple truth is far more productive than trying to fool your employees

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By its very nature, managing employees requires a certain amount of discretion. However, there’s a fine line between discretion and deception that, when crossed, creates resentment and job dissatisfaction.

This post contains 10 lies that I’ve heard bosses tell in real life, along with suggested true statements that do the job much better.

Please note that some of these lies would be perfectly reasonable to tell if they were true.

1. “I’m paying you a competitive salary.”

Unless your employees are very stupid, the first thing they’ll do after you make this statement is hop on the Web and research average salary levels and find out what people in their position generally get paid. If it’s less than they’re making, they’ll assume that either you’re lying or (best case) uninformed.

A truth to tell instead: “I’m paying what I can afford to pay.”

2. “My job is to make you more successful.”

It’s always a mistake to set expectations for which you can’t really deliver the goods. If you’re secretly more concerned with your own advancement rather than in being of service to your employees, you’ll inevitably create resentment when your actions don’t match your fine words.

A truth to tell instead: “Your job is to make ME more successful.”

3. “We’re all one big, happy family.”

This can only be true if 1) you yourself came from a happy family, and 2) everyone else came from a similar happy family. Chances are, however, that some of your employees come from dysfunctional families, and the last thing you want is for them to bring their family dynamics into the workplace.

A truth to tell instead: “I’d like you to be happy working here.”

4. “We are following a five-year plan.”

OK, this one’s just silly. Take a look at your five-year plan from a couple of years ago. After you’ve stopped laughing, take a good long look at how you and your organization really make decisions and prioritize activities. In all likelihood, you’re using a three- to 18-month window, like everyone else.

A truth to tell instead: “We do our best to adapt.”

5. “My brother-in-law was the best person for that job.”

Who do you think you’re kidding? Everybody, including the brother-in-law, knows that he got that position because (gasp!) he’s your brother-in-law. Attempting to sugarcoat obvious nepotism as some kind of planned business strategy is embarrassing to everyone involved.

A truth to tell instead: “It was either that or me sleeping on the couch.”

6. “This is a 9-to-5, salaried job.”

Yeah, and there’s a unicorn eating petunias in my garden. Let’s face it: In today’s business world, there simply ain’t no such creature as a 40-hour workweek for salaried employees. Unpaid overtime has become the norm inside most companies, and it’s absurd to pretend otherwise.

A truth to tell instead: “If you meet your goals, you get extra vacation days.”

7. “There’s no truth to those layoff rumors.”

Though you may want to keep people working hard when they’re probably soon to be axed, the minute you deny the rumors, anyone with half a brain will be in their office rewriting their résumé. Pretty much all but the most naive workers know that no layoff rumor is true until it has been officially denied.

A truth to tell instead: “Worrying about stuff that might happen is pointless.”

8. “Employees are our most valuable asset.”

Most employees are intelligent enough to realize that most companies, including yours, have plenty of assets that they value more than their employees. This kind of platitude, rather than reassuring employees, simply convinces them that you can’t be trusted to tell them the real truth.

A truth to tell instead: “I value your contribution.”

9. “Your participation is entirely voluntary.”

Once again, it’s fine to say this if it’s really true, but most of the time (let’s be honest here) what you really mean is that participation is somewhere between “highly encouraged” and “absolutely mandatory.” After all, if the activity were truly voluntary, there’d be no need to point it out, right?

A truth to tell instead: “I expect full participation.”

10. “I will divorce my wife and marry you.”

A recent study of successful men who have affairs found that (despite their promises) only 3 percent divorce their wives and marry their girlfriends. Given that office affairs involving the boss (especially) are a huge distraction and morale killer for everyone involved, why compound the problem by laying a line of BS?

A truth to tell instead: “Let’s just not go there.”

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