Do You Have a Blame Culture in Your Workplace?

30 Nov 23 | Jennie Marshall

In this latest blog, our Head of Learning Solutions, Jennie Marshall, discusses how to avoid creating and encouraging blame culture in the workplace.


Do you have a blame culture in your workplace? Create a success oriented culture by avoiding blame games at work!

Have you “taken one for the team” at work and accepted blame for something that wasn’t your fault?

A new survey by Office Team has found that almost half of managers (47%) have, with the top reasons being split equally at 34% between the manager feeling it was his or her fault indirectly and not wanting to argue over a minor infraction.

Another 10% of respondents said that an explanation would take more effort than it was worth and 7% did not want to get others in trouble.

It is important for leaders to create a culture of accountability and to not tolerate ‘blame-games’.

Accepting blame-games has an ongoing impact on your team

When a manager shoulders blame for things that are not his or her fault, this has both short- and long-term impact on their work team.

The team loses respect for the manager (not standing up for themselves) and also accepts a culture of blame. It also clearly does not hold the right people accountable for their actions.  This often allows workplace bullies to thrive!

When I worked in a previous role, my manager had a saying: “no monkeys on my back”, which to him meant that employees dealt with everything themselves and at the appropriate level.

His approach was that employees and managers should never shoulder the blame or a problem that isn’t theirs and more importantly they should never send it upwards.

When I first moved in to the team, I was always trained this way from boss. “You will never learn to be an effective manager if you don’t adhere to this principle”, he used to say to me.

“Whenever he felt any of us were ‘delegating’ our blame or problems upwards or downward, he said ‘no monkeys’. That was our cue to ensure that the appropriate person dealt with the problem or blame…. it was powerful lesson.

When you feel indirectly responsible

In a situation where a manager feels indirectly responsible for a situation, I recommend the manager fess up and find a professional way to deal with this difficult situation.

Reach out to the person who ‘shares’ that blame with you and explain that it is a ‘shared’ situation (you shoulder some of the blame). Then communicate how you handled this experience with some team members. It is very effective hands on learning/training for them.

When it seems petty to assign blame

For situations where dolling out blame seem petty, write it off, but also make a mental note.

If it happens with any frequency, note this, and then have a ‘conversation’ with the individual about this ‘trend.’

When this does not happen, the team not only loses respect for the manager for not standing up for himself or herself, but the manager also accepts a culture of blame, which can be destructive.

Avoiding blame games

With almost half of managers admitting to having accepted blame that was not theirs to shoulder, clearly there is room for improvement. The best way to address this is to focus on changing the workplace culture.

Like my previous work situation, it helps to have a culture where people aren’t chastised for mistakes, and are comfortable owning up to them.

Even more importantly, to train people to recognise when a problem is theirs to ‘own’ and empower and train them to deal with it.  A slogan (no more monkeys) on our part as a cue helped a lot.


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Jennie Marshall

Jennie Marshall

Head of Learning Solutions

Proud Yorkshire lass, keen baker, green fingered and Labrador mum