Blame culture - what it is and what effects it has

Blame Culture: Definition and Explanation


What is a Blame Culture?

A blame culture refers to an environment where people, or groups/teams of people, are frequently singled out and blamed, criticised and fault is apportioned for mistakes and errors. This tends to result in a situation where people are reluctant to accept responsibility for their actions and mistakes, because they are afraid of criticism and reprimands from their managers and leaders. It also results in people who are unwilling to take risks or speak out (employee voice). 

Blame cultures are found in many organisations and businesses, including healthcare industries, and have been found to be a growing issue for a number of years. In a healthcare scenario this is further exacerbated by the projection of fear and anxiety by patients onto the professionals looking after them. 

Blame cultures can be found throughout the business and services sector, with employees afraid of punishment or dismissal for mistakes or judgements made. Much of it comes from a lack of emotional support, emotional intelligence and compassion, especially where staff are seen as cogs in the machine as opposed to human beings. 

Blame cultures have been found to result in:

  • Higher levels of turnover
  • Reduced work engagement and productivity
  • Decision escalation, or continually referring to managers for decisions
  • Lower levels of organisational performance
  • Lower levels of innovation behaviours and creativity  
  • Reduced levels of job satisfaction
  • Reduced levels of responsibility taking

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Research briefings blog

Contributor: Adrienne Hardwick


Khatri, N., Brown, G. D. & Hicks, L. L. (2009) From a blame culture to a just culture in health care. Health Care Management Review, 34, 312–322. doi: 10.1097/HMR.0b013e3181a3b709

Gorini, A., Miglioretti, M., & Pravettoni, G. (2012). A new perspective on blame culture: an experimental study. Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice, 18(3), 671-675.

Gabriel, Y. (2015). Beyond compassion: Replacing a blame culture with proper emotional support and management: comment on” Why and how is compassion necessary to provide good quality healthcare?”. International Journal of Health Policy and Management, 4(9), 617.

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