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Women are more likely than men to lie to their bosses when working from home

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People working from home are more likely to be dishonest than office workers, but female employees lie more than men – particularly over email, research shows.

A study by the University of Cologne set out to discover how likely people are to be dishonest over different types of communication – from email to face to face.  

Participants were asked to flip a coin four times and then tell researchers what it landed on – if it landed on tails they were given a financial reward. 

In every type of communication people lied, but the more anonymous the conversation – email compared to video chat – the more likely they were to lie.

Women were more likely to be completely dishonest than men if the method of communication was more distant and anonymous, the team discovered.

People working from home are more likely to be dishonest than office workers, but female employees lie more than men - particularly over email, research shows

People working from home are more likely to be dishonest than office workers, but female employees lie more than men – particularly over email, research shows

The team say these findings could help companies determine the best methods of communication as people continue to work from home due to coronavirus. 

Julian Conrads and Sebastian Lotz, from Cologne communicated with volunteers in different ways from face-to-face to anonymous web-based. 

‘The research reveals that an individual’s lying cost may be affected by social distance concerns,’ said Conrads.

They met with volunteers over a range of distances and at different levels of anonymity – including fully open face-to-face conversations, web forms filled out in the lab and web forms filled out at home by volunteers.

They found the more anonymous and the more distant the communication, the more likely someone was to lie about the result of the coin toss. 

‘This effect seems to be more pronounced for women than men when it comes to lying to the full extent,’ the co-author of the study said.

‘Women – communicating remotely from home – were more likely to report landing on tails for four times compared to men’.   

This research is relevant in an organisational setting as decision makers have to decide which communication channel to rely on, the authors said.

Lockdown measures, designed to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus pandemic, has seen millions of people around the world work from home.

While some degree of normality is being reintroduced, including shops re-opening and some school children retuning, many office workers are still at home. 

The team behind the study say their research is particularly useful for firms working out the best way to stay in touch with those distance working employees.

For example, how often do they carry out face-to-face Zoom meetings compared to relying on email or even text messages through apps like Teams or Skype.

‘As face-to-face communication is unavailable due to most employees working remotely, the next best thing is video conferencing rather than chat,’ said Conrads.

‘Dishonest behaviour was prevalent in all experimental treatments but increased as the method of communication became more ‘distant’ and ‘anonymous’.’

Basically, they found through their coin flip experiment, that the best way to ensure an employee is being honest is to see their face. 

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

A study by the University of Cologne set out to discover how likely people are to be dishonest over different types of communication - from email to face to face

A study by the University of Cologne set out to discover how likely people are to be dishonest over different types of communication – from email to face to face

They could earn money by privately flipping a coin four times in a row – each time they report tails they’d be given one euro.

The volunteers were split into groups – some reported their results with no technology – face-to-face in a lab, some did so over the phone while in the same building and others did so over the internet remotely.

Nobody was blameless. They found dishonest behaviour prevalent in all of the different reporting techniques.

However, it was more prominent the more remote and anonymous the volunteer became from the researcher asking the questions.  

‘One possibility is that they are more readily willing to report extremely beneficial (yet unlikely) outcomes as the “distance” or “anonymity” in the communication increases,’ the authors wrote in their paper.

They also found a gender bias – women were more likely to lie about the result.

‘Thus, our research provides an answer to an important question for behavioral 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 study was published in the journal of Behavioural and Experimental Economics.

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