Forgiveness is Good for Business
Research shows cultivating a forgiving organizational culture lowers costs and increases productivity. You can't beat that!
We rarely hear about forgiveness as a corporate value. Why is that? I believe it is because it’s not entirely understood. The process of implementing a concept like compassion or forgiveness organizationally can cause ambivalence, and the benefits are not widely touted. But, forgiveness isn’t just an esoteric concept; it is undeniably good for business.
Forgiveness is a conscious choice to release the negative feeling we hold toward a person for hurtful or damaging behavior. It is important to highlight that forgiveness is a choice, which implies that it is not something that just happens spontaneously or by chance. Forgiveness is a discipline, just like working out. The more you do it, the more you benefit and the easier it becomes.
Why it matters
There is no question about the advantages of forgiveness on an interpersonal level. Research shows that forgiveness—or, a lack of resentment—leads to lower blood pressure and lowers cortisol levels, thereby reducing stress responses. Individuals who practice forgiveness use fewer sick days and go to the doctor less often. Those prone to forgive are shown to have greater happiness, improved self-esteem, and an increased impulse to associate with trustworthy and loving people.
Research has also shown that workplaces with a culture of forgiveness have:
Lower levels of interpersonal conflict and stress
Higher levels of productivity
Higher retention rates for top performers (because they tend to have less tolerance for “tit-for-tat” environments)
More responsible and creative risk taking
Greater personal ownership of ideas and tasks
Increased joy and meaning making
These advantages have a direct impact on the bottom line via decreased costs and increased productivity. Additionally, the evidence is clear that policies and procedures can’t overcome the effects of a culture that does not encourage mutual understanding. In general, “carrying resentments towards others keeps us in a subtle and constant state of low-grade upset. In addition to the energy drain…we begin to expect more of the same behavior.”
What does forgiveness mean for corporate culture?
Integrating forgiveness as a practice means encouraging employees to actively forgive one another for both minor and major disagreements. It’s easy to imagine how asking members of our team to be forgiving might create conflict (individuals feeling taken advantage of or others feeling someone was let off the hook too easily, for example). Practical implementation of forgiveness as a value component of culture requires an organization to facilitate open and honest communication and demand rigorous accountability. Last but not least, forgiveness has to be demonstrated from the top down.
Why do you need to manage this at the cultural or organizational level? Because encouraging individuals within your organization to practice forgiveness runs the risk of creating an uneven playing field. To level the playing field, companies need to call for personal accountability and open communication. If you encourage interpersonal forgiveness within the organization but don’t create an expectation for it, you run the risk of negative outcomes for those who do forgive if the other party to the dispute does not take responsibility for their actions. Forgiveness in ongoing relationships, especially ones that entail day-to-day interaction, requires that all those involved remain accountable. Justice and power balance can be maintained through accountability and open communication while also leveraging the many advantages of a forgiving culture.
Why does forgiveness need to start at the top? This is the most authentic way to build the requisite trust to reap the benefits of a forgiving company culture. If your employees know leadership will be forgiving of their mistakes, they are more liable to take strategic risks, which are shown to lead to innovation. And, if they see leadership demonstrating accountability for errors, they are much more likely to follow suit.
How to encourage forgiveness in your organization
Be purposeful: Have a conversation about forgiveness and make its inclusion in your corporate value system explicit and official. With this should come an expectation that individuals practice forgiveness at work.
Demonstrate: As mentioned before, it is crucial that leadership forgives blunders (publically when appropriate) and take responsibility for mistakes.
Maintain accountability: Realizing the benefits of a forgiving culture is only possible if people trust the people around them. Making sure everyone is held accountable and that the people impacted are aware of the ways in which justice has been maintained is an integral aspect of that trust.
Encourage open communication: Encouraging honest communication also reinforces trust within an organization. And, it is linked to innovation and creativity, so it’s a good idea anyway.
Provide support: Make sure you have resources in place (EAP, mediators, staff counselors, or just an open door) to help employees through more challenging conflicts.
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” Mahatma Gandhi