Forgiveness: An Overlooked Trait in the Workplace

We often see forgiveness as something manifested in our personal lives or outside of work.

In the workplace, forgiveness has no place. The moment you enter work on your first day or week, you’re given an employee handbook filled with rules and appropriate sanctions for violating these rules.

As an HR manager for a manufacturing company before, I always see personnel files stacked with disciplinary action forms, show cause notices or written warning forms.

Yet, there seems to be no rules or forms for forgiveness.

This may be due to erroneous beliefs we have on forgiving. Even in our personal lives, we sometimes think that when we forgive, we’re condoning a behavior. Or it’s a sign of weakness and cowardice. Or isn’t the offender likely to commit the act again if we forgive?

But these are often self-serving and judgmental. After all, forgiveness is different from condoning. When you fail to see the action as wrong and in need of pardon, that’s not forgiveness.

It’s also not excusing. When you don’t hold the offender responsible for his action, that’s not forgiving. It’s not a free pass you can just give.

And while forgetting is often linked with forgiving, both are distinct. You may forgive but you may not be able to remove awareness of the offense from your consciousness.

Now that we know what forgiveness isn’t, then what is it?

Let’s look at how one company, Fishbowl adopts forgiveness. For the past years, Fishbowl has retained its best employees and encouraged a culture where all are respected equally.

It fosters an attitude of compassion, humility and gratitude—key attributes that make up a forgiving workplace.

forgiving workplace
A forgiving workplace fosters an attitude of compassion, humility and gratitude.

So forgiveness still acknowledges and points out wrongdoings that workers may commit. But every blunder you make isn’t placed under scrutiny or the limelight.

Forgiving in the workplace means people know when they make mistakes. But they also know the company will help them conquer these as well as build skills to avoid making the same mistakes.

As a result, forgiveness encourages others to move past their mistakes.

And while you may not be able to remove all those forms and processes that keep records of your violations and faults (like what Fishbowl did), being forgiving encourages using part of your resources as incentives to do better.

After all, forgiveness isn’t just a form but a practice.

forgiveness reduces stress
Be less angry, less hurt and more optimistic.

Beyond physical benefits, forgiveness can reduce stress, symptoms of stress and boost vitality among workers.

Three separate studies found those taught to forgive became less angry, less hurt and more optimistic. They have also become more forgiving in other situations and developed compassion and self-confidence.

By being forgiven, employees are offered the chance to take risks, be creative, grow, and build loyalty.

Forgiveness restores hope and productivity in the workplace. Not forgiving divides and creates discord.

True leaders are aware of the costs of animosity. Fear becomes the driving factor. Holding grudges holds people back.

Forgiveness should also start with forgiving yourself. The expectations you have on yourself can reflect on your expectation of others. So if you can’t forgive yourself for missing the deadline, how much more when others do the same?

By avoiding being hard on yourself, you can expect to more easily be forgiven too. Then you start making amends to make yourself better.what can you get out of forgivenessWhen companies focus more on what they can get out of forgiveness instead of how hard or wrong it may be, then they can more effortlessly integrate this value in the workplace and make the most out of it.

What are effective ways you can be more forgiving at work? Let us know through your comments below.


[ii] Fred Luskin, Ph.D. Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness (Harper, 2002)