A reader writes:
I work in a team of about 20 people within a large organization in a big city. I generally like my job and get on well with the people we work with. However, my boss has recently been asking me to lie to colleagues about my commute to work!
Her problem is that we both commute into the city from the same train station, but I have only been doing this for a few weeks following a move. We are the only two members of our team who commute in along this particular train line. My boss is often late (we have flexi-time and can arrive any time up to 10 am, but she still doesn’t seem to be able to get here on time) and has always blamed the trains being cancelled/late/etc. However, now that I use the same train line, it’s become obvious to me and my team that boss is lying, because I’m making it in on time just fine.
Recently, we had some stormy weather and the train company announced the day before the predicted storms that trains may be delayed the following day. They were delayed, but the frequency of the trains on that line meant it didn’t really matter (e.g. I went to catch the 8:10 and found it was delayed by half an hour, but the 7:45 was also delayed by half an hour and so arrived 5 minutes later). I got to work on time, but boss was late and made a huge show when she came in of saying “Oh, how did you get here? I had to wait hours on the platform!” etc.
Normally this doesn’t bother me and it’s just a bit of a running joke in our office that boss is never to be seen much before 11 am. We all roll our eyes at her excuses, but it rarely affects us in any real way. However, boss and I went to a meeting on Friday and while we were alone in the meeting room (waiting for other attendees to arrive), she brought up the topic of our commute and suggested that I “not mention my journey to colleagues because it might be misleading.”
I didn’t know what to say so I didn’t really say anything and then other people showed up for the meeting so the topic was dropped. It’s not like I regularly discuss my commute with colleagues, but I don’t want to lie to them, especially as they do sometimes ask how my journey was when boss has phoned/emailed with her excuse about terrible train service. Also, sometimes I see boss on the same train as me (sometimes even have conversations with her), but then she won’t turn up to work until an hour or more after I get there. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course (she’s not required to go straight from train station to office), but it often means she is late and will call in with some excuse that I know is a lie.
Any advice as to what I should do here?
Wow. What is your boss doing in the mornings between getting off the train and arriving at work that she’s so desperate to protect, I wonder?
In any case … I doubt she really expects you start making up stories for your coworkers about how the trains are often late or delayed. She’s probably not thinking about the fact that people might ask you directly about the commute, and instead is just hoping to get you not to volunteer anything about the commute proactively. (Not that it’s not still an incredibly weird request for her to make — it is.)
Obviously, you’re under no obligation to abide by that request or to in any way lie or shade the truth about the train line you both use.
I suppose it’s worth thinking about whether your boss is the type to retaliate against you for saying anything that might jeopardize her story-telling. (Hell, some people might even argue that you have something to gain by making a point of keeping her secret, but obviously if that requires outright lying that should be a no-go.) If she is the retaliating type, you probably have bigger problems, so I’m going to assume for now that you have no reason to worry about that.
However, in general, I wouldn’t go out of your way to blow her cover — that has too high a risk of ending badly, and ultimately it’s none of your business anyway. But I’d still continue to answer questions honestly when coworkers ask you about your commute — without drawing any conclusions like “so obviously Jane is BS’ing us all.”
And realize that you have a boss with a weird habit and a willingness to lie in at least one ongoing situation.