Author(s), Title and Publication

Paul, G. D. & Putnam, L. L. (2017). Moral foundations of forgiving in the workplace. Western Journal of Communication, 81(1), 43-63. DOI: 10.1080/10570314.2016.1229499


Offensive behavior in the workplace can lead to a number of problems. In this study, the authors examine how coping responses in the workplace are rooted in organizational values and expectations surrounding task performance, relationship maintenance, and interaction. In particular, the researchers focus on the practice of forgiving, arguing that forgiving can take many forms that are distinguishable by their associated values and norms. The utilized data was collected in four schools selected on the basis of information obtained from initial informant interviews with the principals of those schools. A total of 103 individuals who had worked in the education field for an average of 13 years participated in the study. Semistructured, in-depth interviews were utilized to explore three subject areas: the social environment of the workplace, situations when participants experienced a hurtful act, and responses of organizational members to hurtful situations.

Participants tended to cope with hurtful events in two stages. Initially, they vented negative emotions to people inside and outside the workplace with whom they felt comfortable. Following this venting, participants engaged in prolonged avoidance or reengagement. Most participants reengaged with the other person, though to differing degrees and for differing reasons. Four reengagement responses were evident: “moving on,” “not taking it personally,” “letting go,” and “forgiving.” Of these practices, participants engaged in moving on most frequently. Three practices–letting go, moving on, and not taking it personally–reflected a strong emphasis on task accomplishment. Conciliatory forgiving was only moderately associated with task accomplishment concerns and emphasized relationship maintenance.

Implications for Practice

Organizations should (1) be mindful of how dispute resolution recommendations and “best practices” influence coping responses, and that popular prescriptions to be “professional” by controlling emotions and engaging in problem solving may constrain employees’ ability to empathize, (2) enable all members of an organization to dialogue about one another’s diverse assumptions about coping responses, and (3) be aware that the effectiveness and appropriateness of a forgiveness practice depends on workplace values and norms and the nature and type of harmful behavior.

Location of Article

This article is available online at: (abstract free, purchase full article)

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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