The Blame Game – a game with no winners

For more years than I care to remember I have heard numerous companies stating that they ‘want to get away from the blame game’ they want to promote a culture of inclusivity where employees can voice concerns or point out problems without fear of retribution.

However, I see very little evidence that this is not more than just something to be said rather than a true cultural shift.

Coming back down to basics; an employee will always feel that their position is vulnerable.  If not from external forces, as we are seeing, such as economics forcing workforce rationalisation but also from internal pressures such as being regarded as a trouble maker. Employees in general, are afraid that if they lift their heads above the parapets to complain, they will be shot at!

Avoiding the blame game

A progressive employer wants to encourage employee participation and will listen to their views whether they be good or bad.  One way to achieve this, to remove the fear of retribution, is to set up some form of confidential feedback reporting.  A system that is completely anonymous but allows those who care about their employer and want the whole company to do well to give feedback. A way for them to express their opinions, thoughts and views which the employer can then take on board. It needn’t be complicated.  Even a simple suggestions box tucked in the corner would do or an anonymised feedback from online.

Public sector organisations have a written whistle blower policy for the more serious concerns and many large companies have the same. The term whistle-blower dates to the 19th century when policemen used to blow their whistles to alert the public of impending danger or crime. However, Ralph Nader, the US civic activist made it popular as a more positive spin on the idea of being a “snitch” or a “grass”.

When the blame game gets serious

Whistle-blowers take a huge risk when exposing unethical behaviour, illegal conduct or misdeeds, whether within a public or private sector organisation. Although protected by law, the law is vague and open to interpretation and many have lost their jobs or even been prosecuted. Hardly surprising then, that many employees keep their heads down and say nothing.

If something is going wrong within a company the front-line employee is far more likely to be aware than those sitting on the board of directors. A progressive company understand this and welcomes constructive feedback from their workforce. More importantly, a company has an ethical duty to eradicate sexism, racism and bullying from their workplace. They cannot do this if these incidents go unreported.

Signs that the blame game is in operation are; low productivity; high staff turnover; high sickness and absence rates. This indicates that somewhere in management, someone is not taking responsibility for the welfare of their employees. They are blaming, rather than listening.

Concern yourself more with accepting responsibility than with assigning blame. Let the possibilities inspire you more than the obstacles discourage you

Ralph Marston

The 21st century blame game

In this age of technology, companies would be well advised to take employee discontent seriously. In much the same way that an angry customer can leave a scathing review on their website or slam them on Facebook, so too can a frustrated employee. Moaning about work may be a national pastime, but social media enables those moans to go viral. Yes, if an employee writes defamatory comments about their company the organisation can sue them for libel, but is that the best solution?

Would it not be better to allow the employee a safe platform on which to air their grievances? Many schools do this well, with student suggestion boxes around the building. They then follow this up with student council meetings at which the suggestions are discussed.

Dismantling the blame game culture

Employees who feel their voice is heard tend to be more productive. If the culture is one of “keep quiet and get on with it” the company is guilty of a subtle form of bullying. The employer does have the power and most workers know this. They can strike, if they have a grievance and a union to back them, but surely that is a last resort?

The first step to dismantling the blame culture is to view all opinions as having equal validity. The marketing director may be angry and worried about the overspend on advertising budget by their ad manager. The ad manager may feel that the wrong instructions were given and is now terrified of losing their job. The reality may be that the system for setting budgets is flawed. Blame does not resolve this and costs the company money.

Allowing employees to express their opinions requires the company to listen first. Then there needs to be acknowledgement- the views have been heard, the company is investigating. Finally, there needs to be action- steps taken and the results fed back to the employees.

The imperative is that the employer actively promotes the system to their employees and then ensures they read what is said and act/report back on any issues raised.

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