Why Employees Lie to Get Off Work

Is it ever okay to lie to get vacation days you want? Of course, the obvious answer is, “No.”

But giving the obvious answer and moving on is the lazy way out. As managers, leaders, and HR Pros, we must dig deeper to find out why employees are motivated to fib.

Case in point: this recent article out of the UK on some of the lies told to get preferred holiday leave dates. (Note to my U.S. readers, Europeans generally refer to vacations and holidays alike as “holidays,” whereas in America, the two seem to be more distinctly qualified as personal vacation time vs. scheduled holidays when the company is also closed.)

While 39 percent of workers book time off more than six months in advance in order to get the dates they want, almost a quarter instead turn to underhand tactics in order to get their annual leave approved.

These include lying to colleagues, saying the dates were already booked off, which 12 percent of respondents admitted to, while 7 percent told their employers they were ill when they were actually on holiday.

What’s more, 1 (one) percent of people said they pretended they were going on their honeymoon in order to win the leave over their colleagues, according to the Skyscanner research.

Other false claims included pretending they were snowed in, saying they had the funeral of a close friend to attend, and one person even admitted to ‘eating a handful of shampoo so I’d be sick in the office.’”

I’m sure none of this new to the vast majority of my readers, but let’s dive a little deeper into what’s really going on here.

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3 reasons employees lie to get off work

  1. Mental health days are not a figment of the imagination. Sometimes at the end of long project or in the midst of a crazy workload, employees just need a break. Those who claim a sickie when not actually ill may feel guilty at leaving the work on their colleagues to take time off. And if you want to reduce the number of these false claims, look into this research showing supportive supervisors are the number one factor.
  2. A selfish and competitive spirit extends even to preferred vacation time. Though I’m often not in favor of hard policies, sometimes it’s necessary to deal with those 1 (one) percent claiming a honeymoon just to get their preferred vacation dates when they didn’t plan ahead as well as their colleagues. Then again, I always hated to hear about organizations requiring employees to bring back funeral programs to prove a loved one had died and they’d gone to funeral. What’s next? Requiring proof of cruise itinerary on the honeymoon?
  3. It really is that bad at the office. Someone ate shampoo to be able to leave sick? Can anyone imagine what that work environment must have been like for the employee resorting to this? If you are one of those organizations with a hard and fast policy around vacation or holiday time, have a think about the unintended consequences your policy might be generating.

What are some of the favorite lies you’ve heard to get out of work?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at irvine@globoforce.com.


2 Comments on “Why Employees Lie to Get Off Work

  1. For some office workers, it may simply be that they feel no guilt for taking the occasional sick day, because no one does their work when they’re gone. That largely counts for me. I just get it done the next day.  Also, In many offices, you can tell when there’s a lull. Fewer projects, fewer clients, etc., yet everyone has to be in the office from 9-5, Mon-Friday, no matter that that week they could easily come in three days and things would be just fine. (This offsets those weeks/months where 11-12 hour days are needed to get the work done). I think if more businesses were flexible about people’s hours, fewer people would need to take a mental health day.

  2. You raise a larger, important point, Kama. Managing to the letter of  the law usually isn’t the most effective, motivating or engaging approach.

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