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Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies…

Kweku Adoboli is the UBS trader being questioned on suspicion of unauthorised trading, losing the bank $2bn. Nick Leeson has spoken out about Adoboli might have been feeling as his deceptions snowballed out of control.

Leeson was the ‘rogue trader’ who brought Barings bank to its knees, after losing them $1.3bn, with more than 20,000 illicit futures deals. He said: “You live in fear. Your whole life is a lie.”

Leeson explains how he thought he would be caught in the first 24 hours and jumped every time there was a knock on the door or the phone rang. He should have closed the position at the earliest opportunity and accepted a slap on the wrist, but when the knock on the door didn’t come, he grew in confidence.

He says: “Eventually you start to think in terms of weeks, then months and the losses become large multiples of the original. Once it passes £100m maybe, or £500m, the actual figure becomes superfluous.”

When the call did come, Leeson fled, but was caught and spent three years in prison. While trading, there had been no release from his lies; he lied to his bosses, his friends and his family and sought release in alcohol. He hadn’t meant to become a criminal, it crept up on him gradually, but he says he wasn’t the only one to blame; ” The criminality is always with the individual trader, but the bank, with its negligence in controlling what is going on, is complicit.”

That is an interesting point. There is obviously a contract between an employer and employee; explicitly, in return for working a five day week, the employee expects to be remunerated fairly for his time; but implicitly, there is a duty of care in the case of the employer and an assumption of honesty for the employee.

It is obviously best to be honest most of the time, but there are situations that demand a little white lie or two and, in fact, most working relationships start off with lies; at the interview stage.

The interviewer will probably exaggerate the importance of the position, the potential of the role within the company and even the function of the role. In return, interviewees will most likely inflate their past achievements and their value to the company they wish to leave and the one they want to join.

Any self-respecting candidate may find themselves having to lie about future plans. It is obviously self-defeating to mention the family you are planning, or that you are intending to launch your own company. Likewise, a candidate has the absolute right to conceal any health issues that may affect them, physical or otherwise.

I know of one advertising director who, when he was at an interview to work in what would be his second job, in the marketing department of a blue-chip company, was asked if he was acquainted with the new marketing director of that company.

It so happened that he had played in a football match with him the week before and, keen to show he had good contacts, said: “I play football with him and he’s really good, but he can be annoying because he shouts a lot and he’s incredibly lazy.” He didn’t hear back from the company but had learned honesty is not always the best policy.

Lies at the interview stage are mostly sins of omission, commited in an unnatural situation, where both parties expect a certain degree of gilding the lily, but when you get the job, that’s when you can start the lying proper; the lying you’ll need to do sometimes to save your job, your reputation, or just to make life more tolerable.

A recent survey said 15% of people had been caught out lying at work; 26% of the survey said they lied to appease clients or customers, 13% lied to cover up failure or mistakes and eight percent of lies were to cover lateness or absenteeism. Only five percent were malicious, to put down a colleague or to gain credit for someone else’s work.

Everybody’s late sometimes and on such occasions it is usually best to tell the truth, saving a lie for the time you miss your flight to an important meeting. This is where a family emergency, an accident or unexpected birth can be your trump cards.

Likewise, we all have days when we just can’t face work and need to phone in sick. Sounding like you are on your deathbed when you are hungover is acceptable practice, but doing so frequently, especially on Mondays or Fridays, will not make you overly popular.

If you have the courage, it is best to phone your boss and tell them something like: “Look, I’m sorry and it’s a bit embarrassing, but I’ve got piles, I can’t even sit down, let alone come in today. Please don’t tell anyone in the office.” If they have any respect for you they won’t mention a thing and will always believe you in future.

The odd lie is always needed to smooth the wheels of industry and sometimes essential. Only an idiot would tell their boss they had an interview to go to, rather than a dental appointment. The key thing is not to get a reputation as a liar; integrity is a key asset in all business.

To say honesty is the best policy is trite, but as Nick Leeson, and now, Kweku Adoboli, have found to their cost, it usually is.

Let us know if you have any anecdotes about lies in the workplace that went horrendously wrong, or ones you might be particularly proud of.

Nigel Phillips

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