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Blame at Work: Implications for Theory and Practice from an Empirical Study

Lupton, Benjamin and Sarwar, Atif (2021) Blame at Work: Implications for Theory and Practice from an Empirical Study. Business and Professional Ethics Journal, 40 (2). pp. 157-188. ISSN 0277-2027

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Abstract

Existing work in the field of business ethics has explored how concepts in philosophy and other disciplines can be applied to blame at work, and considers blame’s potential impact on organisations and their employees. However, there is little empirical evidence of organisational blaming practices and their effects. This article presents an analysis of interviews with twenty-seven employees from a range of occupations, exploring their experience of blame, its rationale and impact. A diversity of blaming practices and perspectives is revealed, and in making sense of these the authors draw on recent theoretical developments—Skarlicki, Kay, Aquino, and Fushtey’s (2017) concept of ‘swift-blame,’ and Fricker’s (2016) notion of ‘communicative blame.’ The study also reveals a tension between a desire to avoid ‘blaming’ on the one hand, and a need for ‘accountability,’ on the other, and the authors explore the implications of the findings for organisations in seeking to ‘manage’ blame.

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