Create a culture of forgiveness in the workplace

Forgive at workThe theme on the blog this week is forgiveness. I kicked it off on Monday with a tip to forgive someone at work, and followed up on Tuesday with fascinating research from Sarah Warner, which shows that companies with a culture of forgiveness are more productive than companies where people are prone to revenge.

I’ve since found even more reasons to avoid revenge at work:

A tit-for-tat corporate culture can also lead to the loss of great workers, said Dr. Everett Worthington, a psychology professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and Executive Director of the Campaign for Forgiveness Research.

Worthington has been studying more than 100 workers in Virginia and Washington, D.C., who were asked to recall incidents of workplace transgressions.

“(After) conflicts, they no longer liked coming to work,” Worthington said. “They became sicker and missed more work days. In some cases, they even changed jobs.” (source)

But how exactly can a company foster a culture of forgiveness, rather than one of revenge? Here are my top three tips.
1: Teach leaders to forgive mistakes

In one company, the CEO was told by a trembling employee, that the company website was down. This was a big deal – this company made most of its sales online, and downtime cost them thousands of dollars an hour.

The CEO asked what had happened, and was told that John in IT had bungled a system backup, and caused the problem. “Well, then,” says the CEO “Let’s go see John!”

When the CEO walked into the IT department everyone went quiet. They had a pretty good idea what wass coming, and were sure it wouldn’t be pretty.

The CEO walks up to John’s desk and asks “You John?”

“Yes” he says meekly.

“John, ” says the CEO, “I want to thank you for finding this weakness in our system. Thanks to your actions, we can now learn from this, and fix the system, so something like this can’t happen in the future. Good work!”

Then he left a visibly baffled John and an astounded IT department. That particular mistake never happened again.

The CEO might just as well have thrown the book at John and fired him for his mistake. This show of forgiveness, of acknowledging that mistakes happen and that we must learn from them, goes a long way to creating a culture of forgiveness.

2: Teach leaders to apologize
Leaders make mistakes. Everyone does. But leaders who never apologize for their mistakes, create a sense of injustice and unfairness around them.

Leaders who freely apologize when they screw up demonstrate that making mistakes is OK, and therefore make it easier for people to forgive others’ mistakes.

3: Make people happy at work
And most of all, make people happy at work. Studies show, that when people are happy at work, they are much less prone to bad or petty workplace behavior, such as revenge. They are also more likely to think the best about others, and less likely to assume that others are out to get them – and thus worthy of revenge.

What do you think it takes to make people more inclined to forgiveness than revenge at work?

7 thoughts on “Create a culture of forgiveness in the workplace”

  1. This is right on! I firmly believe–though so many dispute it–that great leaders never assign blame for screw-ups. Because we’re all human, and we all make mistakes. If one mistake can bring down the entire operation, it’s the operation that we need to fix, not the person. Firing the person who made the mistake won’t help, because whoever we get to replace him will be just as human and will also make mistakes. Great post, Alexander.


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  3. Anger Antidotes-Frogiveness

    An individual need not desist in their negative behavior for you to forgive them. The act of forgiveness is for your benefit not theirs. If someone close to you has injured you forgiving him or her may not be an easy task. Remember this, forgiveness is not some state of mind you can miraculously achieve. It is a decision you make everyday and possibly every hour. When you feel the pain of an offense your duty is to forgive. Forgiveness is a vital anger management tool

    Shannon Munford M.A. MFT, CAMF-Anger Management Consultant

  4. I agree with your article that forgiveness at work will make a difference in working relationship. I have experienced how a conflict affected me, as an employee and it showed on the quality of my work. With hurt feelings that went unresolved, will be demonstrated on my work performance. I salute those leaders that are humble enough to acknowledge their mistakes. We are all human and no one is perfect. We do all commit mistakes. The lesson learned from that mistake is what important so as to be wiser in dealing with the same situation again. Forgiveness at work is very important so as to create an atmosphere of transparency and teamwork which will lead to achievement of the objectives of the company.

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