Should You Be Honest at Work? Not Always.

Sep 12, 2012
5 Min Read

Olivia had been working in what she termed “offensive” corporate environments for over 10 years, and she was at her wits end.  While working for one consumer healthcare giant in particular, Olivia was criticized for wearing clothing to cover a disability and pulled out of a major client account because her boss wanted it for himself.

Since the company’s HR department spent a lot of time and money developing a new employee survey, Olivia decided to be honest when she received it.  The intention seemed earnest enough, after all, and Olivia thought her feedback would help the company reach its goal of increased employee engagement.

In the comments section of the survey, Olivia noted the lack of empowerment among junior staff as well as the overly critical eye of management.  She cited examples of inconsistent expectations and unkept promises.

Although the survey was not anonymous, Olivia never imagined she would be called out for being insubordinate.  She received a “talking to” from her boss as well as her Group Head and was treated like a naughty child until the situation was so intolerable Olivia felt she had to leave.

The Truth?  You Can’t Handle the Truth!

It’s tempting to use company evaluations, your own performance reviews, or others’ performance reviews to express your true opinions about the organization or its people.  I urge you to use discretion, because blatant honest comments – especially when your feedback is negative – can wreck havoc on your career if they fall into the wrong hands.

Even if a survey is technically anonymous, it can often be traced to you if each employee is provided with her own URL, and your candidness could come back to haunt you.  Employers may say that they value your opinion, but the hard truth is, sometimes they simply want you to tell them how great things are.

Always Be Constructive

If you genuinely feel that your organizational culture is one that supports growth and change and that you can share criticism without being penalized for it, then make sure you are unwaveringly constructive in your comments.  Read over your feedback two or three times to ensure that everything you say is motivated by your concern for the company, not concern for yourself.

In the Exit Interview, You DO Have Something to Lose

Even if you’re leaving the company and are in the midst of an exit interview, you should dial it down.  As I said in a post last year on leaving your job gracefully, stick to official business as much as possible, and if you must provide criticism of any kind, proceed with tact and caution.  Please do not complain about the company’s difficult personalities and insufferable policies.  Having the last word is not a good enough reason to risk ruining the good reputation you built with that company, or to close the door on any opportunities to work with that organization in the future.

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