Shame on you!

Topic(s): stress
Publication: Organization Science (2012)
Article: Guilt by design: Structuring organizations to elicit guilt as an affective reaction to failure
Authors: Vanessa K. Bohns & Francis J. Flynn
Reviewed by: Scott Charles Sitrin

Bohns and Flynn assert that guilt, as compared to shame, is a more adaptive affective reaction to setbacks in the workplace.  In response to a setback or failure, an employee, among other things, can feel shame or can feel guilt.  With shame, the person may continue to feel humiliated and take no practical steps to addressing the initial setback or failure, whereas with guilt, the person will be motivated to take some sort of corrective action.  Further, under the assumption that people feel guilty when they feel that they have control over the negative outcome and that the negative outcome harmed others, the authors argue that in order to foster guilt and discourage shame, a business should create an environment in which there is a sense of autonomy, specific performance feedback, and outcome independence.