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Is a culture of blame right for the workplace?

Blame in the workplace is the subject of a new research project by Professor Ben Lupton.

When something goes wrong, our instincts seem to be to find someone to blame. But is blame a help or a hindrance in the workplace?

Blame in the workplace is the subject of a new research project by Professor Ben Lupton, funded by a Leverhulme Trust Research Project Grant.

The project will look at how blame, and perhaps cultures of blame, impact on organizations and people working within them, and considers whether ‘no-blame’ approaches may be preferable.

It will examine both real-life examples of blame at work, and the philosophical concepts that lie behind blame. Professor Lupton hopes that his research will inform guidance to help organisations with blame, and will lead to better approaches to blame for both institutions and their employees.

Looking for a scapegoat

Professor Lupton thinks that recent high profile cases where things have gone wrong have highlighted the need people often have to find a scapegoat.

“Whether it’s the case of Baby P, the Grenfell Tower, or the 2007 financial crisis, when problems occur we often look to find the person or persons responsible,” he said.

“So it’s perhaps not surprising that people might seek to find individuals to blame in the workplace.  Also, we might hope that blame, or the fear of blame, might prevent people making mistakes in the future. In this case blame might have a positive effect for organisations in shaping people’s behaviour.”

“On the other hand, the fear of blame may stop people innovating or taking appropriate risks, and that might be bad for business too. Blame might be used as a way of deflecting attention from oneself, or to scapegoat people rather than to address wider issues which might be harder to tackle. These may be some of the reasons why some organisations have introduced ‘no-blame’ approaches.”

He added: “Philosophers have had a lot to say about blame. Some have argued that blaming people is a natural response to feeling ‘wronged’, in which case is might be more difficult for organisations to dispense with blaming even if they wanted to. Others take a different view, so I’m very interested in seeing how their ideas might be applied to the workplace.”

Have you experienced blame in the workplace?

Professor Lupton is currently looking for people who have experienced or observed blame at work to help him with his research. He would also like to hear from people who feel that they have experience workplace ‘cultures’ of blame, or perhaps have worked in ‘no-blame’ cultures.

He would like to invite anyone who is willing to share their experiences or observations to get in touch with him via email b.lupton@mmu.ac.uk. Following this he will provide some more information about the project and arrange for a meeting with him or a member of his research team.

Commenting on the award, Professor Richard Greene, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Research and Knowledge Exchange at Manchester Metropolitan, said: “We congratulate Ben on this prestigious award from the Leverhulme Trust.

“His research takes a philosophical look at a common issue, and we expect that its results will offer much in terms of practical guidance to businesses, organisations, and their workforces.”

Thursday, 12th October 2017