Keeping the Buck: Fighting the Urge to Blame Others by Taking Responsibility in the Workplace

by Jennifer Miller on July 3, 2012

in Guest Blogger, Workplace Issues

A guest post by Melissa Crossman

hand holding dollarsIt’s only natural for people to not want to admit their failures, but at a certain point “passing the buck” becomes a deterrent to productivity in the workplace. On top of being a fruitless discussion, determining who’s to blame for setbacks at work creates unnecessary animosity among coworkers and bosses. This negative tension further adds a barrier to progress, which adds a taste of irony to a situation that stemmed from poor performance in the first place. With a greater focus on positivity, leadership, and personal responsibility, the work environment can achieve a foundation of success.

What is Passing the Buck?

Passing the buck occurs on such a wide scale and so subtly that it may not be as easy to define and recognize when the act takes place right in front of us. Essentially, this act occurs when a failure in the workplace is attributed solely to the acts of another team member. For example, “We could have finished the project on time if Janet hadn’t made those miscalculations” or “The meeting would have been much more successful if Jim hadn’t shown up late.” Each of these statements exemplifies what it means to place blame on another member of the team, rather than working to solve the problem as a collective unit.

Because shifting blame onto others is a natural act, professionals must take on a more active role in both recognizing it and trying to correct their own behavior, as well as the behavior of others in their work environment. When a negative thought occurs due to a mistake made at work, try taking personal responsibility instead of placing the blame on others. Although every worker on the team will have different tasks to accomplish, there is always something everyone can be doing to have a more positive and progressive impact on the workplace as whole.

How to Stop This Productivity-Killing Habit

According to an article posted on, executive coach Barbara Roche utilizes a technique called the Appreciative Inquiry approach. This unique strategy is based on building organizations around the positive attributes of each team member, rather than pointing out the negative aspects of the team. Within this process, Roche encourages team members to discuss each other’s unique strengths and qualities, and elaborate on how these attributes can be used to improve productivity in the workplace.

In addition to practicing team-building exercises like the ones above, professional environments can also eliminate the blame game by making more of an effort to associate an unfavorable stigma to passing the buck. For example, co-workers should make an effort to assertively point out instances when teammates are blaming one another for failures in the workplace, rather than offering solutions. With a more collective approach to solving the problem, results will follow at a much quicker pace.

Influential business thinker Marshall Goldsmith advises professionals to conduct their behavior in the office based on the following motto: “Help more, judge less.” When looking for the root of a problem, try to focus more on flawed actions themselves rather than the people who made them. For example, if a team member didn’t complete their portion of the project on time, perhaps the workload is unevenly distributed or communication should be improved in the workplace. Looking at it from this angle facilitates progression, rather than empty corrosive gossip.  Passing the buck is a common human instinct, but in the workplace it’s a slippery slope that is, plainly put, counterproductive.  When the whole team makes a concerted effort to communicate effectively and not place blame on one another, it will inevitably lead to a more productive and collaborative workplace.

Author bio: Melissa Crossman is a professional writer living in the Indianapolis area with her two dogs. She specializes in education and technology.


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