Productivity | September 27, 2019

Common Fake Excuses Employees Give When Unwilling to Work

There are times when people simply don't feel like going to the office, sitting in front of a computer or even head to a job site. In these cases, people will start thinking of crazy ways to avoid a situation. Excuses are relative to a disease that haunts every business in some shape or form. Which one of the following scenarios has happened to your business?

  1. A project goes south: project members start to build excuses to avoid confrontation
  2. Late for work: people come up with all kinds of excuses to justify their tardiness
  3. A task is postponed: responsible individuals will resort to excuses to avoid problems 
  4. No shows: crew members will think of fake excuses to reason their absence
  5. Initially, excuses may be perceived as rational and harmless reactions to harmful situations. But…

“Psychologists place excuse-making in the ‘self-handicapping’ category – that is, it’s a behavior we express that hurts our own performance and motivation. - 2002 Study from Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology

Further, the study highlights that “excuses act as a distraction that prevents us from achieving a particular goal, task, and they stem from a deeper, unconscious desire to protect ourselves.'' 

As a business owner, you should be able to identify between good and reasonable versus fake excuses.  Fake excuses present a barrier to the growth of your business, and they can never be eliminated completely. As exemplified by Dr. Whitbourne “preventing excuses is as likely to be successful as stemming the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. We can put up protective barriers, try to put the lid on this behavior, or attempt to break it into small bits, but there's no way to eliminate it completely. 'However, preventive measures can be taken to minimize the impact of those excuses to your business.

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Detecting Excuses

To detect excuses, we must first understand the thought process behind a fake excuse. So, let's see what this process may look like.

The Time They Realize

It all starts with a spark, a moment of realization. To put it in words,

  •  “I don't feel like working today” 

  • “Oh, snap! I'm late”

  • “The deadline is due today? NO!”

  • “Damn. I forgot I had this other job site for today!”

All of these reactions illustrate a specific situation that your crew members have faced in the past or are bound to face in the future. For now, these situations are not as bad as they look, in fact, they are normal because they happen to everyone - even the bosses. However, the response to these situations can be a problem. While a small percentage of people are capable of handling these situations on their, others - the majority - tend to enter an advanced thinking process that has been embedded in our brain.

The Time They Think

The human mind is accustomed to thinking about excuses. Let's compare, imagine yourself when you are scared; How fast will you start running or how fast will your brain process negative thoughts? Pretty fast, right? 

Brains respond in a similar fashion when faced with a spark, our brains start to create multiple fight or flight responses. 

  • Should I confront my boss and tell him that I overslept today?  (Fight Response)

  • Or Should I just blame the traffic? (Flight Response)

Since the majority of people tend to be risk-averse, more flight responses will populate their brain, ultimately, leading to an excuse. The temptation of using an excuse is difficult to neglect - which makes this issue prevalent across cultures, societies, and organizations. 

The Time They Decide

You realized, you thought about it, now you need to decide. But, what do you do? At this point, decisions are highly dependent on the personality of your employee. Among others, intuition, the surrounding behaviors, the time of the year are only a few drivers of these decisions.

The most common of all excuses are those that are related to sick leaves. According to new CareerBuilder data, 40 percent of workers have called in sick over the last 12 months when they weren't, compared to 35 percent in 2016 and 38 percent in 2015. Female workers were more likely than their male counterparts to take sick days when they were well – 43 percent to 35 percent, respectively.

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However, there are many alternatives from which employees can pick. We will highlight a few of them, and provide you with solutions that can help you discourage fake excuses.

Defining Excuses

There are numerous articles online that help employees define and use fake excuses but there is none that helps businesses detect them. As such, we thought we would introduce the business owner's perspective of this relationship. Let’s look at some common fake excuses that employees tend to use in the workplace, and then let's figure out ways to discourage this behavior.

Sick Leaves

As we started touching upon sick leaves, we understood that they are a popular fake excuse for employees to miss work. Quite frankly, what are you supposed to do when someone calls sick? Deny his leave and get others sick too? 

We learn how to use sick leaves from as early as kindergarten. Most kids start using this excuse to avoid certain days in the garden. Similar to how you can't get kids to do something when they don’t want to, neither can you oblige employees to come in when they call in sick. 

Family Emergency

“My kids are feeling under the weather, my wife is out of town, so I need to take care of them today”. 

This is only one of the many examples of family emergencies. Whether they are related to kids, parents or relatives, family emergencies should be dealt with care. Not every family emergency is fake and there are multiple ways that you can assert their validity. Among others, you review the social media accounts of the family (including the employee), or you ask for evidence regarding the emergency. 

House Problems

House problems encompass a wide variety of fake excuses starting from flooded bathrooms, broken fridges, electricity issues and more. What’s worse is the unexpected nature of the excuse. How would you feel if your employee notifies 10 minutes before work starts about a problem in their house? 

Whether it's a problem in their house or a family emergency, fake excuses are common and disruptive. Yet, there are ways through which you can discourage such behavior. 

Discouraging Excuses

Just like we talked about earlier in this blog, excuses are a general, embedded behavior that will never truly disappear. Nonetheless, there are alternative routes that can minimize their impact. Start jotting these steps down somewhere on a paper or on a word processor.

Follow Employees Across Social Media Channels

Social media has changed the way privacy is perceived. Anyone can get a glimpse into the private life of the other using social media. As such, the business owner can easily track the activities of their employees through social media channels. 

The CareerBuilder survey that was conducted in the United States found that “forty-three percent have caught an employee lying about being sick by checking out their social media posts”. The trend on fake excuses is increasing - the more people make fake excuses, the more will get caught in the act. 

Track And Limit Time Off

Tracking the number of hours an employee worked in a day, week, month or year should not be a new concept to anyone. After all, time tracking has greatly evolved over the past few decades. However, in our case, it is important to realize the psychological impact that time tracking has on employees.

Modern time trackers are sophisticated pieces of software that can accurately measure the hourly input of anyone in your business. Moreover, it accounts for days off, paid-time-off (PTO) and you can easily note the reason behind every employee's absence. 

Why is this important?

When employees know that they are on the clock or that their days-off are being tracked accurately then they will be less inclined to pursue unethical behaviors - i.e. fake excuses. In addition to tracking, these platforms carry the potential to create detailed reports on which you can base your decisions. Questions, like “How many days off has this guy taken?” or “Is she always late?” are a matter of the past. 

Devise Policies Dedicated To Fake Excuses

Every business should have an employee handbook that details certain rules and regulations. More often than not, business owners forget to include a policy dedicated to fake excuses. This policy would describe the various cases that constitute a fake excuse and the costs of committing to such behavior.

Having a dedicated policy in place will not stop your entire team from using fake excuses but it will reduce its satisfaction. In economics, when the satisfaction one yields from an action go down, so will their incentive to commit to the action. Similarly, if you introduce a new barrier to fake excuses, fewer people will be inclined to lie about why they are not showing up for work.

In general, excuses are a common response that humans have come to internalize. As such, they can’t be eliminated completely. However, with the right decisions, excuses can be discouraged and minimized to a degree that they have little impact on the productivity of your business. Start taking measures now and save your business time and money later.


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