Forgiveness often comes up in conversations about persistent workplace aggression. Many believe that if workers would engage in forgiveness, the workplace would improve.

Forgiveness is a process of letting go of anger or blame towards another person who has harmed us. (I would like to note that the concept of forgiveness often has religious or spiritual connotations. As such, this may or may not be an appropriate term to be using in the workplace.)

Forgiveness is frequently suggested to the target and they are encouraged to “let go” of past injuries. A human resources director told me on more than one occasion to wipe the slate clean and start fresh with the aggressors in my department. The implication was that I was the one with the problem and if I would just let things go, the work environment would change. This thinking is highly flawed.

Certainly letting go can be important, but by focusing the request for forgiveness on the target, victim blaming happens. The target once again becomes responsible for what is occurring in the work environment. Forgiveness also makes the target in charge of fixing the problem. In a persistent workplace aggressive environment, the target is usually unable to make any significant impact on the overall culture even if they would engage in “forgiveness.”  If forgiveness would change the workplace, all targets would willingly participate. However, their letting go does not stop the aggressor(s) from continuing to perpetuate violence in the workplace. It may help the target personally, but the environment continues to be problematic.

There is another piece that is missing when conversations around forgiveness begin and that is that forgiveness comes because of healing. Forgiveness or letting go without healing is a futile process and will most likely not improve the overall environment. It makes people and leaders feel good, but it does not repair the environment.

Leaders and workers needs to focus their efforts on how they can heal their organizations and workers. The incorporation of letting go into this process helps with healing. However, healing is the key to improving the overall workplace and for stopping persistent workplace aggression, not forgiveness.

 The organizational culture and workers are interdependent and persistent workplace aggression affects everyone either directly or indirectly. As such, healing must involve the entire work environment and incorporate everyone, even those who do not believe aggression does not affect them. An organization that engages in an active healing process can stop persistent workplace aggression, repair worker relationships, and even prevent future violence from occurring in the organization again. Forgiveness without healing will not change the persistent workplace aggressive environment, but forgiveness with healing can make a world of difference.

If you or someone you know is experiencing persistent workplace aggression, please contact me at or (320) 309-2360. You can also visit my website at Help is out there.


08/14/2016 9:49pm

I honestly think that forgiveness in a workplace is a must. Because when conflict happens between two workers, this could be a way to solve conflict. Without solving the conflict, there can be problems in the management and it could affect everyone. Their behavior, work habits will also be affected. That is why I think that forgiveness should occur, so no more problems and conflict between people.


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