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Top 8 Lies That Bosses Tell

Most bosses lie. Heck, lying is practically part of the job description. Even so, that doesn't mean that YOU need to be taken in, every time the boss tells a tall one.

Here are the eight most common lies that bosses tell their employees. Knowing that they're lies, and how to react, will make you more successful and can even save your career.

Click the green NEXT button to view the first lie.


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LIE #8: "I'm paying you a competitive salary."
  • Why it's a lie: The mere fact the boss feels the need to say it means that it's probably untrue.
  • Why it's told: The boss wants to keep you from jumping to the competition.
  • How To React: Get on the web, research what people in your field generally get paid. Ask around your industry to find out what's the going rate. If you're being underpaid, build a case for being paid what you're worth. Meanwhile, start looking for employment someplace where the boss isn't so cheap.
  • Tales from the front: A Sales Machine reader recently wrote me how her boss cut her salary when business tanked during the Bush recession, and then, when revenue more than recovered, kept "forgetting" to restore it to the former level. When pressed, the boss said (you guessed it) that the new salary was "competitive."
LIE #7: "Your raise is above average."
  • Why it's a lie: The boss tells everyone that their raise was above average, which is impossible.
  • Why it's told: It's a cheap way to keep you from asking for a bigger raise next time.
  • How to react: Remember that what's average or not average inside your firm is completely irrelevant. What's relevant is the value that you're creating for the company. Your salary (or commission if you're in sales) should be based upon that value, not some arbitrary rule. If you're creating a lot of value, demand to paid what you're worth. Even the most rigid salary guidelines are flexible if you apply enough pressure.
  • Tales From the front: Way back when, I worked for a company that had "cast in concrete" salary rules limiting raises to 3% to 5%. I had started at a very low pay point but had quickly become a major contributor. I made it clear that I would have to leave if they didn't come across with more than "above average" 5%. Guess what? The boss suddenly "discovered" a loophole in the pay structure that would allow him to pay me overtime for work that I was doing anyway, thereby providing me with a 17% raise.
LIE #6: "My job is to make you more successful."
  • Why it's a lie: While it's true that a good boss wants you to be successful, every boss is committed, first and foremost, to his or her own success.
  • Why it's told: Bosses believe that they can advance their career more quickly (i.e. by getting more work out of you) if you are convinced that they're committed to your success.
  • How to react: Take it with a grain of salt, and then hold your boss to his or her word. Find things that the boss can do that will make you more successful. Bring them up frequently and remind the boss about his or her "commitment" to your success. Worst case, you'll make a bad boss uncomfortable; best case, you'll find out that your success and the boss's success are in alignment with each other.
  • Tales from the front: I've observed that many of the most successful people in business conceptually treat their manager as their employee, and figure out how to get him or her to do what they want and need in order to advance their own career. In fact, managing your boss should be your #1 job -- if you want to be on the fast-track.
Lie #5: "We're all one big happy family."
  • Why it's a lie: While the workplace might reproduce some of the dynamics of a family, it's always a dysfunctional one.
  • Why it's told: The boss secretly thinks of employees as clueless little children who can, and should, be told what to do... and spanked when they disobey orders.
  • How to react: If you EVER feel like you're in a family-like relationship at work, get into therapy, fast! Chances are that you're playing out the some weird script from your childhood... and the boss is (consciously or unconsciously) exploiting your psychological weak spots. BTW, if things ever get tough, and it's time for layoffs, you'll find out exactly how much of a "family member" you are.
  • Tales from the front: I once worked for a guy who clearly was playing out the script from his abusive childhood. At each staff meeting, he'd pick an underling and berate him publicly, screaming right into his face. He was pulling this number on one woman who worked for him, yelling at her for not wanting to work over a holiday to complete a presentation he needed. She suddenly threw a pencil at him and screamed back: "WE ARE NOT F*****G WORKING OVER EASTER VACATION." As the rest of us watched, the boss suddenly seemed to turn from an abusive monster into a scolded little boy. He slumped down, muttered under his breath, and dropped the subject. BTW, he never yelled at "Mom" again. Sick stuff, sure. But quite typical of what goes on in workplaces that are "big happy families."
LIE #4: "We're executing to a five year plan."
  • Why it's a lie: While managers talk about long range plans, they rarely, if ever, think more than one year out.
  • Why it's told: The five year plan is like a security blanket. It makes managers feel like there's some strategic point to all the fire-fighting and swamp-draining that they're doing every day.
  • How to react: Nod your head in agreement, then dig out the five year plan from five years ago. Look at where they thought your firm would be by now and what everyone would be doing. Then try not to bust a gut laughing.
  • Tales from the front: I worked in one high tech firm where managers and executives spent the first two months of every fiscal year working on the five year plan. In the 6 years I worked there, I never once ever saw anyone refer to the current five year plan, once it had been approved.
Lie #3: "My relative was the best person for the job."
  • Why it's a lie: There is no way in hell that bozo would have been hired under normal conditions.
  • Why it's told: The boss thinks you're even more stupid than his bozo brother-in-law, as evidenced by the fact that he's telling you this patently ludicrous lie.
  • How to react: It depends. If the bozo is just deadwood who can be ignored while you do your job, do so. On the other hand, if the bozo gets in the way and makes your life miserable, the only way to get out of the situation is to find a job elsewhere, hopefully with a boss who comes from a small family.
  • Tales from the front: I knew an editor-in-chief who hired his younger sister right out of college to manage a group of senior writers. Her management style consisted of making snarky edits (e.g. "this is stupid") and assigning insulting articles (e.g. "Why Millennials Are Smarter Than Baby Boomers.") To make matters worse, she could barely write a coherent paragraph. The results were predictable; the senior talent swiftly abandoned ship.
Lie #2: "This will be a 9 to 5 salaried job."
  • Why it's a lie: Such jobs no longer exist.
  • Why it's told: The boss is hiding the fact that a new employee will be expected to work the 60 hour work week that has become the norm in corporate America.
  • How to react: Do what everyone else does: work about 35 hours a week, and then spend the rest of the 25 office hours pretending to work while reading emails, playing solitaire, flirting, web-surfing, snacking, etc. It's not a job, it's a lifestyle!
  • Tales from the front: Over the years, I've watched the "required hours at the office" climb to the ridiculous point that it's gotten today. However, I have never, ever seen anybody do more that 35 hours of real work on a regular basis. In fact, I'd say the average is probably more about 25 hours. Yeah, I've seen herculean crunch-time efforts from motivated staffs, but mostly it all averages out to what it was back in the 9 to 5 days.
LIE #1: "There's no truth to those layoff rumors."
  • Why it's a lie: A corporate rumor is never true until it's been officially denied.
  • Why it's told: The boss is hoping that enough people will believe the denial so that work doesn't slow to a crawl while everyone worries about the layoff.
  • How to react: Understand that a layoff is definitely going to happen, probably sooner rather than later. Immediately stop working on long term projects and start executing short term projects that will make you visibly successful and valuable. Meanwhile, start networking and interviewing like crazy... before everyone else at your workplace gets wise and starts doing the same.
  • Tales from the front: When I worked in Fortune 100 companies, I went through at least a dozen corporate-wide layoffs. They all started with a rumor, followed by an official denial of that rumor, followed (hard on its heels) by the actual layoff. Amazingly, in every case, about 50% of the staff believed the denial and went on with business as usual. Lesson: management deception thrives on wishful thinking. (E.g. look at the astoundingly naive comments in the recent post 10 Times it's OK to Lie to Your Boss)
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