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Women More Likely To Lie To Their Bosses When Working From Home

New research by the University of Cologne found women to be more likely than men to lie to their bosses, especially over email.
New research by the University of Cologne found women to be more likely than men to lie to their bosses, especially over email.
  • People were more likely to lie over email than they are when face-to-face
  • But women were found more likely to lie than men
  • Employers should use video conferencing rather than email to communicate with employees working remotely

Let’s be honest, we’ve all told a few small white lies in our professional lives. Perhaps you’ve been “stuck in traffic” on your way to work when the reality is you’ve just overslept, or perhaps you’ve claimed to be “poorly” when in fact you’re just hungover.

But it seems half of our workforce are more dishonest than others. New research by the University of Cologne finds that women are four times more likely than men to lie to their bosses when working from home, especially over email.

In the study, participants were asked to flip a coin and inform the researchers what it landed on, each time the coin landed on tails they received a financial reward. The results show that women were more likely to lie and report landing on tails, especially if the method was more distant and anonymous – such as email.

Surprisingly, the study also revealed that age had no effect on whether participants would lie – neither did religiousness. Furthermore, the participants income played no role despite the monetary reward that was offered; their risk-attitudes had no effect either.

In fact, none of the “big five” personality traits (extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism) impacted an individual’s choice to lie – only gender and method of communication.  

These results further support recent literature that suggests women are more sensitive towards experimental manipulations across several domains of social behaviour, for instance in social dilemmas.

“The research reveals that an individual’s lying cost may be affected by social distance concerns,” says Dr Julian Conrads, from the Department of Corporate Development and Business Ethics, “and this effect seems to be more pronounced for women than men when it comes to lying to the full extent.”

The researchers say that these findings could help businesses determine the best method of communicating with their employees who are currently working remotely.

As a result of COVID-19, governments globally have imposed lockdowns in order to slow the spread of the virus and reduce the impact on healthcare systems, but this has led to billions of people having to work from home.

While it has been an adjustment, for many the move to remote working has been successful, and is here to stay. A survey by Deloitte found that as many as quarter of British employees could end up working from home for good. Furthermore, fifty of the biggest UK employers questioned by the BBC have said that they have no plans to return all staff to the office in the near future.

This has come as a surprise to many, especially as we’re stuck in this Groundhog Day of uncertainty, but the idea of going back to the office isn’t as appealing as it once was. After the first lockdown, despite the government’s encouragement, only 34 per cent of white-collar workers went back to the office in the UK compared to 83% in France, and an average of 68% among major European counterparts.

Now this could be down to the uncertainty of the virus, but for the most part, people just prefer working from home. Being able to work at home has brought about a sense of dissatisfaction for the office environment, people have realised that they hated their commute, the office politics, and bland ham sandwiches for lunch.

As a result, Dr Conrads and his fellow researcher from Stanford University, Sebastian Lotz, advise employers to use video conferencing, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, when communicating with remote employees, rather than email or text as the best way to ensure an employee is being honest is to see their face.

“As face-to-face communication is unavailable, due to most employees working remotely, the next best thing is video conferencing rather than chat,” says Dr Conrads.

The researchers add that it is important to remember that participants lied in every type of communication, so you won’t stop it from happening, but you can reduce it by communicating through video.

The study involved 246 participants – 49 percent female and 51 percent male – from a pool of 2,000 students at the University of Duisburg-Essen.

The participants were split into groups and the communication channels used to inform the researchers differed – some reported their results with no technology – face-to-face in a lab, some did so over the phone and others did so over the internet remotely.

“Our research provides an answer to an important question for behavioural economic research, suggesting that communication channels are a critical feature for individual responses and that women might be more responsive to differences in communication channels,” the authors wrote.

The authors add that decision makers in organisations need to take into account that their design choice affects behaviour and might lead to detrimental effects, such as dishonesty.

The study was published in the journal of Behavioural and Experimental Economics.

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