Forgiveness in the Workplace: Fuel for Individual and Organizational Success

Forgiveness in the Workplace: Fuel for Individual and Organizational Success

Nancy Kymn Harvin Rutigliano (State University of New York Empire State College, USA), Sandra Barkevich (State University of New York Empire State College, USA) and Betty Hurley (State University of New York Empire State College, USA)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1049-9.ch061
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All members of an organization—no matter where they reside on the organization chart—are fallible human beings. Mistakes, therefore, are inevitable. How mistakes are dealt with greatly impacts organizational culture, which is a major determinant of productivity and performance as well as satisfaction and loyalty. We make the case that forgiveness, while seldom discussed in the workplace or in leadership development programs, can be a major contributing factor to organizational success. Evidence will be provided that when mistakes are dealt with in an environment of forgiveness and as learning opportunities, the outcomes are more likely to be positive. Connections are made to employer and employee satisfaction as well as motivation, retention, and loyalty. We further show that forgiveness in the workplace promotes understanding, tolerance, and acceptance as well as the freedom to be creative, innovative, and to excel. Examples are provided from the literature and common situations at work as to how forgiveness can be effective in fueling success.
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“Forgiveness” is often perceived as a baggage-laden word that has religious and/or spiritual connotations. It is also perceived as an abstract philosophical or theological construct that may be defined differently by each individual and, therefore, deemed too “murky and messy” to be considered for its value to leaders and managers as well as employees and other stakeholders. The integration of religion into the public spaces of work is typically frowned upon in modern Western society where the separation of church and state has extended by implication to a separation of church and public spaces (Milliman et al., 2003). Forgiveness is also commonly viewed as “personal” and, therefore, not appropriate to be discussed in the workplace. Workers, in particular, are often expected to separate the work-self from the personal-self between the punches of the timecard. And, though seldom spoken aloud, many feel they are expected to be “non-human” at work. This can lead to a reduction in the feeling of one’s personal values, including forgiveness, being aligned with organizational values (Milliman et al, 2003). Such rigid compartmentalization of identity can lead to employees at all levels feeling their work is devoid of personal or higher meaning and resulting in reduced levels of engagement and satisfaction as well as higher incidents of mistakes and errors (Chalofsky, 2010).

Gallup, a global research and performance management enterprise based in the USA reports that over 50 percent of employees are dissatisfied with their bosses or supervisors, the amount of work they are required to do, the recognition they receive for their accomplishments, and the culture of their organizations (Saad, 2012). High levels of stress on the job—especially from workplace issues of rudeness, bullying, and harassment—and being seen as a commodity versus a unique human and spiritual being contribute to dissatisfaction and lack of engagement. Fear of being ridiculed, punished, or shunned for mistakes, including those that are inadvertent, unintended, and without malice is often rampant and can impede people from doing their best work (Glaser, 2007). Leaders and managers are challenged amidst times of rapid change and increasing demands to find innovative ways to fuel success. We believe that “forgiveness”—a topic seldom discussed in leadership and management circles and rarely taught in supervisory training or in higher education—can be a major contributor to employee engagement, satisfaction, and high performance in organizations around the world.

Organizational research in recent years has acknowledged the importance of a leadership and management philosophy that treats people as valued assets rather than simply as labor costs to be moved around like pawns on a chess board, tossed aside as used commodities, or eliminated from a balance sheet (Caldwell & Dixon, 2009). Leaders and managers have a profound influence on their followers as well as the overall organization. Leadership behaviors that “encourage the heart” have increased employee initiative and responsibility (Kouzes & Posner, 2003, p. 4) and produced positive results in other ways, including to the bottom line.

Michael Stone, director of Mastery of Management International, posited that forgiveness can be a powerful tool, framework, or context for effective management and leadership. Stone writes:

In this new economy, which is characterized by escalating speed of change, increasing alienation and a growing search for meaning, it makes good business sense to practice the art of forgiveness. True forgiveness supports the retention of valued employees, allows for greater creativity and innovation, leads to increased profitability, and generates greater flexibility in responding to market conditions. (2002, p. 3)

The goal of this chapter is to show how real-world application of forgiveness can be a valuable tool of leadership, a powerful work reinforcer, and fuel for organizational success.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Secular Work Environment: Non-religious organizational setting.

Retaliation: Reprisal or revenge taken against someone for a perceived wrongdoing.

Forgiveness: Ability to let go of resentment and need for retribution.

Culture: Set of beliefs and attitudes.

Theory of Work Adjustment: A means of conceptualizing a relationship/fit between an individual and a job or organization.

Work Reinforcers: Factors of satisfaction in one’s role, work and work environment in an organization.

Mistakes: Errors or faults; miscalculation.

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