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How to Create an Excuse Free Work Environment

Where do excuses come from? Did a dog once really eat someone’s homework?

There’s actually some history behind ‘the dog ate my homework’ excuse, which is said to have started in the 5th century. Of course, sometimes an excuse isn’t really an excuse at all, but a legitimate reason for not completing your homework… ahem… work.

Let’s face it, days do not always go as planned.

No matter how much preparation you put yourself through, not every circumstance is under your control. It’s possible for someone to have set five different alarms to wake up, laid out their clothes the night before and skipped breakfast to arrive to their meeting on time, only to be rear-ended in the parking lot.

So, how do you figure out what’s unlucky happenstance and what’s a tale rooted in laziness? And, how can you foster a positive work environment free of unnecessary excuse making?

We’ll look at what inspires excuse making, environments that foster excuses, and how to create excuse-free environments.

And to make things interesting, we polled our community of Small Business Experts to share the wildest excuses they’ve heard in the workplace.

What inspires excuse making?

What compels an employee to make an excuse, or more precisely: what motivates an employee to lie to their employer?

Headspace Daily says, “excuses aim to shift the focus from issues pertaining to our sense of self to issues that are relatively less central.”

When someone asks you why you’ve failed a test or a project, anxiety and shame begin to set in.

“Your subconscious quickly tries to protect your sense of self from being attacked or criticized, and you blurt out – the test was unfair!”

‘It was unfair’ shifts the attention from any lack of preparation to an external source that is outside one’s control.

“We once had an employee that we were flying out to two events that were about a month apart. On each of the two mornings he was scheduled to fly, he would call and say that he had a close family member die and that he couldn’t make it for the trip. We felt horrible for this guy… losing two people close to him in such a short amount of time. He admitted later that no one died. He was just terrified of flying and didn’t want to tell anyone.”

– David Ehrenberg, Founder of Early Growth Financial Services

In the workplace, anxiety and shame can run high. Fear can often be the reason that employees make excuses – fear of being found out and/or fear of punishment.

Either the employee feels threatened by their boss and feels that regardless of whose fault it actually was, they will get blamed unjustifiably, or they know they have dropped the ball and want to avoid the negative consequences.

Environments That Foster Excuse-Making

Poor work environment and poor leadership will create a breeding ground for laziness, boredom and excuse making.

“The company I worked at had rented a helium tank with balloons. I came up with an idea to make multiple balloons with random products hanging from them and set them off throughout the store… However, the balloons got pulled into the air intake in the ceiling and started popping and dropping items… Then there was the whole ‘repair the intake’ part…”

– A Bored, Anonymous Employee

Are you always getting excuses? Do you ever wish your employees would just be honest with you?

Then consider for a moment how you, the employer, would respond to bad news.

What is your company culture like, and how does making a mistake or missing a deadline fit into that culture? What are the consequences for making a mistake?

Remember, excuse making stems from a desire to protect. Do your employees feel like they need to protect themselves?

“It is taking me longer because I am doing it the hard way.”

– Max Yoder, CEO and Co-Founder of

Consider how you react to employee failures. Are employees punished? Embarrassed? Reprimanded?

In poor work environments, employees may resort back to strategies from their childhood.

Children often make excuses because of fragile egos and a lack of ability to confront personal weakness says Psychology Today. But, as anyone could attest to, this isn’t just a trait children possess.

If an employee has been publicly reprimanded for making a mistake in the past, they will know that if they are honest with their employer about mistakes in the future, they will be put through the embarrassing situation again.

Mistakes happen, and no amount of punishment can deter them. If you hear a lot of excuses, you may need to tweak how employee errors are handled.

How to Create Excuse Free Environments

Culture and inspiration in the workplace is extremely important in creating excuse free environments. This also applies to remote teams that convene on online networks such as Slack.

Ideally, a work environment will foster:

  • Honesty
  • Trust
  • Teamwork
  • Adaptability

“Can we push the deadline out? I’m a bit constipated and have spent the last 2 hours in the bathroom,” – TMI!

– Shrad Rao, CEO of Wagepoint

Shrad believes ‘admitting one’s own mistake’ is one of the 6 Employee Behaviours That Should be Recognized and Rewarded. He says, “Since most mistakes are usually attributed to human error, it is a refreshing change when someone owns up to it and takes accountability for making it right.”

There will always be human error and unplanned delays. How can your company foster employee confidence and morale in the face of a workplace blunder?

“Typically I find employees have reasonable reasons for not completing their work. A few times employees have said things like, “I had to buy a shirt for a wedding”.

– Matthew Davis | President and Thought Leader at Virtustructure Inc.

In his post, How to Hire and Keep Amazing Employees, Derek Distenfield suggests building a company culture by bringing your employees together with shared values and goals. He says, “when you find an excellent match, keep them close.”

Hiring Amazing Employees

Sometimes creating a warm and welcoming work environment just isn’t enough.

There are people out there who will take advantage of any goodwill you show them; they get by on easy charm rather than skill and commitment. It can be difficult to weed these people out, and it is up to the employer to make the judgement call.

This is where your own judgements and hiring process will play a crucial role.

More and more companies are looking at how their employees will fit into the company culture and how different personalities can work together. says, “who someone really is and how they will actually behave on the job = how they will fit the needs of the role”.

What’s the best strategy for avoiding excuses? Hire honest and accountable people, and hold yourself to the same standard. Applying these strategies could save you a lot of aggravation in the future, and also save your employees’ dogs’ digestion forever.

Want more from our community or Small Business Experts? Browse our stream of expert posts, curated specifically for startups and small businesses.