The truth is that people lie (oh, the irony). In fact, in a SimplyHired survey, 37% of supervisors admitted to telling “white lies” at least once a week, while 30% of associates and 28% of entry-level workers spilled that they lie on a weekly basis, too.
Of course, companies should cultivate cultures of trust, but not all managers and executives tell the whole truth all the time — and, no, they don't always have bad intentions. Some leaders hold back from sharing everything with their employees or spread half-truths and white lies with good intentions, even if this ends up to be damaging. Sometimes, a white lie is told with a good heart to spare the recipient, for example.
Likewise, managers cannot always share everything with their employees for legal reasons.
"There will always be some things that managers and executives cannot share with employees for legal and confidentiality reasons like company financial performance, company acquisitions or mergers, and information relating to other employees," says Maree Frakes, program management director of EY Design Studio.
Either way, we spoke to leaders about what lies management tells employees all the time — from budget bluffs to sticky situations. Here's what they had to say.
1. The state of an employee's reputation (and their future because of it).
"I personally hold back from telling employees hard truths about their career trajectory that have nothing to do with their performance and/or things they can improve," says Meghan Titzer, director of product development at Homesite Insurance. "Like, 'You'll never get promoted here because so-and-so senior person doesn't like you,' or, 'This performance issue you had here 10 years ago is still remembered by many people so you'll never move up in the company no matter what great things you have done since.'"
Titzer admits that she's torn about whether or not she should tell employees when these are the boats they're in since they can't do much about their situations and she doesn't want them to leave. But, if it were her, she says that she would want to know.
Others add admit that managers often keep to themselves what people's perceptions of their employees truly are.
"Managers don't know how to tell you about your work reputation without having a negative impact on them or you," says Laurie D. Battaglia, MSOD, PCC, CEO and Workplace Strategist at Aligned at Work. This may be because an employee has had a bad reaction to feedback in the past or, perhaps, because they're conflict-averse. It could also be because the manager isn't comfortable with emotions so, if the employee expresses anger or sadness, they won't know how to handle it. In the same vein, she explains that they may not want to tarnish their relationship with their employees and, if that employee is happy in their current role and doing their job well, why rock the boat?
2. The company's not-so-ideal instability.
"The biggest truths I've seen executives and managers hold back from employees are the financial state of the organization when that state isn't good and the state of the pivotal relationships within the organization when those relationships are faltering or uncertain," says Abigail Church, organizational development consultant. "The individuals who are responsible for leading the organization are aware that signs of instability, whether they are signs of financial instability or instability in the team make-up, can cause the staff to feel anxious about the future of the company. This anxiety often drives staff members to seek employment elsewhere at a time executives and managers believe the organization cannot afford to replace seasoned employees."
Therefore, instead of being open about what's going on so that staff members can make informed decisions when fulfilling their responsibilities and look out for themselves and their families, managers will keep quiet. They want to retain these skilled staff members with the mindset that "this too shall pass," Church says.
"Unfortunately, the 'this' doesn't always pass, or it does pass but not without leaving significant damage in its wake," she adds. "When those chips fall, the executives and managers who kept quiet lose credibility as leaders."
"Managers frequently hold back from telling employees the whole, ugly truth — usually, it's about topics like what's really happening in the company," says Battaglia.
There are many reasons why managers withhold company information, she says. Of course, they may be forbidden to speak about it (especially if the company is public and that information could influence stock price). Or they or their bosses might just be micromanagers who want to control the messaging within and about the company.
3. What salary changes really look like.
"Managers and executives will often be vague about whether or not you will receive a pay increase or promotion, especially at large companies, as there are typically processes in place in order to do either," says Frakes. "While they may allude to you being a good candidate for a pay increase or promotion, they will not give a definitive 'yes' or 'no' because it is not completely in their control."
In the same vein, she adds that they don't want to confirm gossip — even if they know it to be true. Because pay raises and promotions are not necessarily entirely up to them and often require company-approved communication plans, they will choose their words wisely.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.