Forgiveness Education: A Modern-Day Strategy That Can Improve Workplace Harmony

Two new research reports have just been published about forgiveness in the workplace and both of them reinforce the findings of a study done more than two years ago by Dr. Robert Enright, founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, and his research team.

That ground-breaking 2017 study, Forgiveness Education in the Workplace: A New Strategy for the Management of Anger, demonstrated the positive role forgiveness can play in reducing anger, resentment, and the desire for revenge among those coping with workplace injustice. 

Dr. Enright conducted that study, believed to be the first-ever exploration of forgiveness in the workplace, with UW-Madison researchers Ke Zhao and John Klatt. It was published in the London Journal of Research in Humanities and Social Sciences, a London, UK, peer-reviewed international journal for researchers and scientists.

The two new research reports, both published early in August, indicate that the insights of Dr. Enright’s 2017 workplace project are now gaining a foothold with other researchers. The first, Linking Forgiveness at Work and Negative Affect, was a study involving 376 manufacturing employees in Roorkee, a city in Northern India.

In that study, researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology-Roorkee implemented forgiveness interventions with employees in a control group and their analysis concluded that “forgiveness significantly reduces the NA (negative affect–the experience of negative emotions and poor self-concept) on employees and hence, organizations should make positive interventions in order to encourage forgiveness at work.” They also noted that forgiveness in the workplace is a subject “that has largely been ignored in organizational research.”

The second study, published Aug. 14 in the American Journal of Health Promotion, was titled,  Is Forgiveness One of the Secrets to Success? Considering the Costs of Workplace Disharmony and the Benefits of Teaching Employees to Forgive. The research team was led by noted forgiveness researchers Loren Toussaint (Luther College, Decorah, IA) and Frederic Luskin (Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA).

According to their analysis: “Worker well-being and productivity benefit when forgiveness skills are taught.” They also speculate that Forgiveness might prove to be one of the most commonly overlooked but crucial elements to any organization’s success. Investment in studying, developing, and monitoring forgiveness and its effects may well become a priority for those organizations wishing to succeed in the 21st century.”  

Both of those new research reports on forgiveness in the workplace provide strong evidence and reinforcement of what Dr. Enright’s team reported in 2017 that forgiveness education is “a systematic, easily-implemented, and non-threatening way to reduce anger in the workplace.” The team recommended that employers conduct regularly scheduled forgiveness education workshops to help their employees be more content and productive.


Learn more about the significant role of workplace forgiveness education by clicking on any of the research report titles highlighted in this article.

I am mad at my step-father for his rudeness. I now am angry at my Mom for still being with him. I now am confused: Do I start by forgiving him first or her first? I would appreciate your suggestion.

When you think about what your step-father has done to you, how angry are you on a 1-to-10 scale? When you think about your Mom and what she has done to you, how angry are you on this same 1-to-10 scale? I recommend that you start with the one person who gets the lower score, the one toward whom you are less angry. I suggest this because it can be difficult to forgive when you are fuming at a particular person. Learning to forgive when you are less angry helps show you the path of forgiving and gets you ready for the more challenging one.

Learn more at What is Forgiveness?

You talk a lot about anger-reduction through forgiveness, but I do not think my primary emotion is anger. I am sad. Is the forgiveness process different if I am angry compared to my being sad?

Actually, the process of forgiveness will be the same whether you are angry or sad. You still will: a) commit to do no harm to the one who hurt you; b) try to see the inherent worth of the other; c) bear the pain so you do not pass that pain to the one who hurt you or to other people; and d) try to be kind, as best you can, toward the person. What may change is the outcome for you, with a reduction of sadness rather than anger.

For additional information, see Forgiveness Defined.

How do I know if my anger is healthy or unhealthy?

Healthy anger is a response to injustice that is short-lived. Healthy anger basically is your way of saying, “What you did was unfair. I deserve better than that.” Unhealthy anger differs from this in: a) its intensity [There may be insults or a temper tantrum, for example.]; b) its duration [It can last for months or years.]; c) its effect on the one who is angry [This kind of anger can deplete energy and increase anxiety.]; d) its effect on the one who offended [It can lead to the other feeling inappropriately attacked.]; and e) its effect on others [The one with unhealthy anger can displace the anger onto unsuspecting other people.].

Learn more at What is Forgiveness?

It seems to me that if a person is forgiving only to get rid of anger, then this is not real forgiveness. Is this true?

There is a difference between the original motivation to forgive and what forgiveness itself actually is. Oftentimes, people start the forgiveness process to rid themselves of unhealthy anger. If they still go through the forgiveness process by committing to do no harm, try to understand who the other person is, bear the pain, and offer respect and kindness toward the offending other person, then this is actual forgiveness. The initial motivation to forgive can change so that a new motivation is to aid the one who acted unjustly.

For further information on this, you might want to read my essay (click the link below), at Psychology Today, entitled, 8 Reasons to Forgive.

Does the forgiveness process require that one feels empathy toward the other person, or is sympathy sufficient?

Empathy is the process by which one “steps inside the shoes of the other” and feels the feelings of that person. Sympathy is more of a reaction to the other. For example, suppose a teenager comes to you and he is very angry about failing a test. You show empathy if you try to feel the student’s anger. In contrast, you show sympathy by reacting to the student’s anger, for example, by feeling sad for the person.

When you forgive, we need to realize that this is both a process in which we start slowly and it is an imperfect process in that we do not always reach the deepest parts of that process. Thus, one can feel sympathy toward the offending person by feeling sorry for that person. Yet, a deeper response is “stepping inside the person’s shoes” with empathy and seeing, for example, the person’s woundedness, the person’s fears and confusions. I say this is “deeper” because you are developing more insights into whom the other actually is. As you see people, in all of their humanity, this more likely will lead to compassion for that person. The compassion can lead to forgiveness, or loving those who have not loved you.

Learn more at Forgiving is not. . .

Forgiveness seems like such a “soft” idea. I need to be strong if I am to solve unjust problems.

When you forgive, you make a commitment to do no harm to the one who hurt you. Is this a “soft” response? When you forgive, you make a commitment to bear the pain that happened to you so that you do not pass the pain to others, including, for example, other family members who were not the ones who hurt you. Is this a “soft” response? When you struggle to love those who have withdrawn love from you, this seems to me to be a heroic response, not a “soft” one.

For additional information, see Forgiveness Defined.