Ask Salt&Light : What if my company has a blame culture?

Pastor Barney Lau // May 20, 2018, 3:34 pm

Screen Shot 2018-05-20 at 7.02.31 pm

Photo by Headway on Unsplash

Dear Salt&Light, 

My company has a blame culture. When someone does something wrong, they’ll push the blame to others instead of admitting their mistake. I want to be as honest as possible, but at the same time, I don’t want to jeopardise my job. How should I approach my work? 

David S, 34, Procurement Manager 

God: “Did you eat the fruit from the forbidden tree?”
Adam: “It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit to eat.”
God: “What have you done?”
Eve: “The serpent tricked me into it.”

Blame is as old as Adam and Eve. Adam blamed Eve (Genesis 3:11-13). Eve blamed the serpent. Cain blamed Abel. Esau blamed Jacob. Joseph’s brothers blamed Joseph. Israel blamed Moses. Saul blamed David. Friends blamed Job. Jonah blamed God. The religious establishment blamed Jesus.

Walk worthy of God’s calling, and we have nothing to lose, nothing to prove, nothing to hide, even when we are blamed.

So, why do people blame? Because blame is:

  1. A self-defence mechanism – it preserves one’s own sense of worth without having to confront their shortcomings.
  2. An effective attack weapon – it is an effective and efficient way to overcome or gain advantage over perceived opponents.
  3. A good deflection tool – it is easy to attribute the problem to a bad situation without accepting full responsibility for what happened.
  4. A soothing medicinal balm – it helps to nurse old wounds and soothe past hurts.
  5. A convenient exit strategy – lying to get out of a messy situation is easier than living through the consequences.

But the deeper root issues behind blame are:

  1. Humans are insecure because of poor self-esteem, fears of failure and the need for approval. 
  2. Humans are selfish due to pride, ambition and greed

 So how do you approach a job where there is an obvious blame culture? Three things: Know the terrain, know yourself and know your calling.

Know the Terrain

Knowing your terrain means recognising both the formal and informal power bases in place, the personalities involved and how things are done in the office or your department. 

Scriptures tells us to be gentle as doves, but that does not mean we should leave our brains behind. The same verse in Matthew 10:16 tells us to be as shrewd as snakes. The first task of being shrewd is to know the environment you are working in, and the people in it.

This is so that you learn how to relate to people above you, who are your bosses and the upper management; people at the same level as you, who are your colleagues, teammates and peers; and people below you, who are the people you manage. 

Understanding why blame occurs and discerning the climate can help you avoid the pitfalls of blame and cope with blame. Acknowledging, accepting and adapting to the realities of your workplace allows you to focus on your actual work, to be excellent and faithful without being paralysed by the prospect of becoming a blame victim.

Know Yourself

Know your own personality, passions and proficiency. Romans 12:3 was written in a different context, but Paul’s exhortation not to overestimate ourselves is also applicable today.

Recognise that our personalities and passions predisposes us to certain ways of thinking, communicating, reacting, relating and teaming up with others can help us identify how we rub others wrongly and vice versa. An objective and realistic assessment of our proficiency at our job can guide how we make decisions, accept or decline responsibilities, when to seek help and even when to raise the white flag. Having a good grasp of our personalities, passions and proficiency allows us to work and relate better with others in a wise and godly manner.

Know Your Calling

Ephesians 4:1 implores us to walk worthy of God’s calling for us.

In his book The Other Six Days, Paul Stevens describes our high calling as “prophets speaking God’s word, priests mediating God’s presence and kings extending the rule of God into all of God’s creation” (page 164). 

We should speak God’s truth with our lips and lives, meditate on God’s presence with His love and grace, and extend God’s rule with godly values despite the blame and pain.

Take care of the depth of our walk with Jesus, and He will take care of the breadth and height of our careers.

Walk worthy of God’s calling for us, and we live life with nothing to lose, nothing to prove, nothing to hide, even when we are blamed. We have learnt to live and work for the approval of the One, not men. 

Still stuck?

If ultimately the workplace terrain does not suit you, a disciple of Christ, despite your best efforts and you cannot live out your calling in your workplace honestly, then have the option of finding employment elsewhere. It is a big world out there.

Though these principles, I have responded to a practical question about how to work in a place where blame is rife. I believe that these principles are universal and timeless for different seasons of our lives and discipleship journey. 

About the author

Pastor Barney Lau

Pastor Barney Lau is a Pastor and Director of Ministries in Covenant Evangelical Free Church. Prior to a personal calling to serve full-time in Covenant EFC in 2008, Barney was the Managing Director of Microsoft Singapore. He continues to be active in the secular marketplace serving as independent director on the boards of companies.