Compliments of Rob Chandanais via Flickr

In our 2008 Business Horizons article, we define shaming sanctions as “. . .placing a convicted individual in the spotlight in the public and professional domain as a warning to others (Wurmser, 1981).” We further suggest that “. . .shame is considered a private emotional reaction associated with embarrassment, discomfort, fear, and anger.” Shaming is discussed as an alternative/combination punishment to physical incarceration for white collar criminals. Due to its potential to socially highlight shortcomings, shaming (in combination with other punishments) can send criminals a strong message.

Under conditions of everyday employment, shaming is an appropriate strategy. Marking people as public spectacles will not motivate them to do more. In a normal workday, we’re not talking about recidivists – but about those who for all intense purposes wish to do well.

Bullies capitalize on shaming tactics to socially dishonor their peers. At the office, one should not attempt to catch people “red handed,” but rather to work with them in an attempt to solve problems. Self-deputizing to correct what you see as flaws (or to self-proclaim what you view as others’ “errors”) tarnishes the image and reputation of the bullied party, and transforms them into company convicts.

Shame mitigates peoples’ status, makes them less likely to speak out, and marks them as someone who may taint coworkers. It is an appropriate management prod, and a method of devaluation deployed by some coworkers. Erasing self-concept if for no other reason than to gratify your own is wrong.

According to Brené Brown, people who feel shame feel deserving of punishment. Shamed employees  are not only knocked to the floor, but they are stepped on in the process. The majority of workers are not willfully trying to break a rule, subvert authority, or perform their jobs poorly. Many times they simply need instruction, training, peer support, praise, and/or managerial attention. Great managers and compassionate coworkers get this. Tyrannical bosses and abusive compatriots do not.

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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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