The Dog Ate My Homework and Other White Lies People Tell.

From padding expense accounts to pilfering paperclips, more and more often employees feel entitled to get a “little extra” from their employers. Short of watching every person every minute, there is no way of measuring how often white lies are told or petty theft occurs in the workplace.

If, like Pinocchio’s nose, each lie became immediately apparent in a person’s profile, business owners could easily weed out employees who cheat and deceive. So, how can an employer predict who might be prone to “borrow” a few dollars, take advantage of sick days, or even surf the Net to find the next job while still on your clock?

Background checks catch a very small percentage of the “white lie club” because the majority of employees who steal—68.6 percent—have no prior criminal record. It’s the apparently honest employee who typically commits this sort of soft deceit.

Most people think of themselves as trustworthy. Others may disagree. Research shows that people lie in one-fourth of their daily social interactions with 91 percent of those surveyed saying they lie routinely about matters they consider trivial. (Source: The book The Day America Told the Truth) One out of every four adults in the United States may lie to get ahead. Ninety-three percent of Americans admit to lying at work. Most of us lie an average of three times a day, about as often as we eat

Where does this behavior start? Apparently at home and long before a person joins the workforce. Twenty percent of parents polled by U.S. News and World Report think it’s appropriate to do their children’s homework. Twenty-five percent of adults think lying is all right if it helps you get ahead.

In a 2003 Josephson Institute of Ethics survey of 12,000 American high school students, 74 percent admitted to cheating on an exam at least once in the past year. Thirty-eight percent of respondents say they stole from a store in the past year. Those who say they would be willing to lie to get a good job jumped from 11 percent from 2000 to 2002, according to study results.

There is light on the horizon: Eighty-four percent of students agreed with the statement: “My parents want me to do the ethically right thing, no matter what the cost.”

What can an employer do to take advantage of this hopeful statistic? Consider using the newest generation of personality tests for pre-employment screening. These tests gauge what hourly employees consider good and bad workplace behavior and what path an executive, professional or manager might take when forced to choose between right and wrong. Although an effective screen, these tests may not be enough to filter all bad behavior traits. That is where a skilled interviewer can make the critical difference. By asking behavioral and situation-based questions, this interviewer can expose the “little devil” in all of us and cut though the magnetism of a suave and debonair candidate before bad behavior later on repulses him. 

Hire employees with good dogs … those that don’t eat homework. Even more important, hire employees whose ethics match those of your business. For more informationb about the CandidClues, a cost-effective, entry-level honesty and integrity test, click here.

This article originally appeared in The Total View, a weekly online newsletter that focuses on hiring, management and retention strategies. The Total View is written and published by Ira S. Wolfe, president of Success Performance Solutions and is distributed with permission by The Chrysalis Corporation. Subscribe for FREE to The Total View by typing your e-mail address in the newsletter sign-up box on the right side of this page.