Shame Study by Dean of Ted Rogers School Shapes Workplace Culture

A new study by Dr. Stephen Murphy, the Dean of the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University, finds that shame in the workplace can be a good thing. According to the research report, shame—often considered a taboo topic—can actually influence ethical behavior within business.

“What we don’t realize is that shame can play a very constructive role in our aspirations and how we learn,” Dr. Murphy revealed in a University research release article. “One of the goals of this paper is to raise people’s awareness of how shame shapes the decisions we make in our daily lives, both inside and outside the workplace.”

The research paper, published in the Journal of Business Ethics and titled “The Exposed Self: A Multilevel Model of Shame of Ethical Behaviour,” outlines a multi-level model for the use of shame. The three levels and their connections are as follows:

  • Within-Person: This refers to individual traits that predispose an individual to feel shame.
  • Between-Person: This refers to how an individual acts with their colleagues and how those actions can illicit feelings of shame.
  • Organizational: Refers to an organization’s culture and how it normalizes behavior.

The goal of the research was to study how shame influences ethical behavior in the workplace in both good and bad ways. Within the paper, Dr. Murphy points to the collapse of Enron in 2001 as an example of shame pervading an entire organization in a negative way. He dives into how unethical behavior and corruption became the new normal and how shame was used to keep individuals quiet.

The paper also looks at how shame can be used as part of an organization’s work culture to make a positive impact, such as teaching employees not to gossip or interrupt colleagues in meetings.

“This has been a difficult concept for organizations to embrace, but some HR practices have slowly started to facilitate these difficult conversations,” says Dr. Murphy.

The Ted Rogers School is Canada’s leading entrepreneurial-focused business school with 15 cutting-edge research centers.

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