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The Links Between Self Forgiveness, Forgiving Others, and Employee Engagement

Leadership IQ studied more than 11,000 employees and discovered that employees who are adept at self forgiveness and forgiving others have significantly higher employee engagement

While concepts like self forgiveness and forgiving others might seem unrelated to employee engagement, this new study finds that the most forgiving people are significantly more engaged at work than their less forgiving peers.

  • Only 8% of people have high levels of Self Forgiveness
  • People who can truly forgive themselves are 65% more motivated to give 100% effort at work
  • People who can truly forgive themselves are 40% more likely to recommend their company as a great organization to work for
  • Only 12% of people have high levels of Other Forgiveness
  • People adept at forgiving others are 42% more motivated to give 100% effort at work
  • People adept at forgiving others are 64% more likely to recommend their company as a great organization to work for

STUDY METHODOLOGY
Leadership IQ , a research and leadership training company, surveyed 11,308 employees about their employee engagement, including questions about forgiving yourself and forgiving others. Key questions selected for use in this study include, "I can stop criticizing myself for the mistakes I've made," "When someone disappoints me, I can eventually move past it," "I am motivated to give 100% effort at work," and "I recommend my company as a great organization to work for." 

What is self forgiveness?

Self forgiveness is the ability to forgive ourselves for mistakes. It does NOT mean that we don't acknowledge mistakes (i.e., we're not walking around obliviously saying, "I never make mistakes so I'm perfect, I'm infallible"). Rather, self forgiveness is the ability to acknowledge a mistake and then NOT beat ourselves up or engage in negative emotions like shame, guilt, or constantly criticizing ourselves for a past mistake.

Self forgiveness is correlated with other characteristics like perseverance, ambition and resilience. Self forgiveness is critical skill for career and life success, because once we inevitably make a mistake, we need to silence our inner critic, get over those negative feelings and keep moving forward.

The link between self forgiveness and employee engagement

If we don't have self forgiveness, we can end up in a negative spiral. For example, imagine that you messed up in a meeting. Without forgiving yourself, you're likely to keep criticizing yourself and ultimately shut down and disengage in that meeting. That disengagement will likely give you a negative opinion of others in the meeting, which in turn leads to more disengagement, and so forth. But if you can forgive yourself for the mistake in the meeting, and keep participating without reservation, then this negative spiral is squashed before it even starts.

In this study, we validated this link between forgiving yourself and employee engagement. We conducted a multiple regression analysis to analyze the link between "being motivated to give 100% effort at work" AND whether someone feels like "I can stop criticizing myself for the mistakes I've made."

Note: The question "I can stop criticizing myself for the mistakes I've made" is a proxy for whether someone can stop a negative thought or negative self talk about a past mistake and the ability to bounce back and move forward.

As you can see in the chart below, the regression analysis discovered that 22% of an employee's motivation to give 100% effort at work is driven by whether they can stop criticizing themselves for mistakes they've made.

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Only 8% of people are forgiving themselves at a high level 

One of the strange aspects about self forgiveness is that some people resist the idea of "forgiving yourself" because they think that if they don't harshly criticize themselves then they won't have the motivation to get better and move forward. While there are a few people who can harshly criticize themselves and see that as a positive thing (i.e., sublimate their pain and turn it into something positive), that's not a very common thought pattern.

More often what happens is that harsh internal criticism ends up beating us down with unrealistic expectations, harmful ways, regret, and bad feelings. There are decades of research showing that a lack of self forgiveness correlates with a lot of psychopathology. Everything from low self esteem to perfectionism to addiction to eating disorders to social anxiety and more is correlated to low levels of self forgiveness.

Unfortunately, as you can see in the chart below, this study found that only 8% of people have high levels of self forgiveness, as measured by the question "I can stop criticizing myself for the mistakes I've made."

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If you're good at forgiving yourself, you could be 65% more motivated to give 100% effort at work

When we analyzed how someone's self forgiveness relates to their motivation to give 100% effort at work, we discovered that someone with high self forgiveness is 65% more motivated to give 100% effort at work than someone with low self forgiveness. It's obviously easier to be highly motivated when we're not burdened by thoughts that a past behavior makes us a bad person. 

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If you're good at forgiving yourself, you could be 40% more likely to recommend their company as a great organization to work for

When we analyzed how someone's self forgiveness relates to their willingness to recommend their company as a great organization to work for, we discovered that someone with high self forgiveness is 40% more likely to recommend their company as a great organization to work for. Interestingly, when someone can practice self forgiveness and treat themselves with some compassion, they're far more likely to view others in the organization with empathy. And that, in turn, will drive higher levels of employee engagement.

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What is other forgiveness?

Forgiving others (aka other forgiveness) is simply being able to forgive others. More technically, forgiving others is the ability to change our negative thoughts, feeling, and behaviors about our transgressors, (people who have done us harm), to at least neutral and maybe even positive.

Forgiving others does not mean that we ignore our transgressors; avoiding somebody that messed up or did us harm isn't forgiveness. Forgiveness work involves taking all of our negative thoughts, remorse, resentment, and turning those thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to at least neutral and maybe even positive. People that are high in forgiving others (other forgiveness), are less likely to seek retribution, more likely to act in a forgiving and benevolent way.

The link between forgiving others and employee engagement

If we're walking around all day with lots of pent up frustration and anger, it's really hard to embrace all the positive things that may be coming our way. People highly capable in forgiving others usually have fewer physical health symptoms like high blood pressure and other cardiovascular issues, and fewer negative mental health symptoms like anger, depression, self destructive behaviors, etc.

When somebody disappoints a person high in forgiving others, that forgiving person can eventually move past it. Over time, people high in other forgiveness are generally understanding of others for the mistakes they've made. It doesn't mean they love the mistake, it just means that they're able to achieve some understanding. They're able to see where the mistake came from, and they're able to bring our own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors up to neutral and maybe even to positive.

In this study, we validated this link between forgiving others and employee engagement. We conducted a multiple regression analysis to analyze the link between the questions about "being motivated to give 100% effort at work" AND whether someone feels like " When someone disappoints me, I can eventually move past it.."

As you can see in the chart below, the regression analysis discovered that 22% of an employee's motivation to give 100% effort at work is driven by whether someone can eventually move past it when someone else disappoints them.

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Only 12% of people score high on forgiving others 

Even though forgiving others is highly related to employee engagement, unfortunately, as you can see in the chart below, this study found that only 12% of people have high levels of forgiving others, as measured by the question "When someone disappoints me, I can eventually move past it."

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If you're good at forgiving others, you're 42% more motivated to give 100% effort at work

When we analyzed how someone's capacity for forgiving others relates to their motivation to give 100% effort at work, we discovered that someone adept at forgiving others is 42% more motivated to give 100% effort at work.

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If you're good at forgiving others, you're 64% more likely to recommend your company as a great organization to work for

When we analyzed how someone's capacity for true forgiveness relates to their willingness to recommend their company as a great organization to work for, we discovered that someone with high other forgiveness is 64% more likely to recommend their company as a great organization to work for.

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MEDIA INQUIRIES:
For media inquiries about this study, including to interview Mark Murphy, CEO of Leadership IQ,  please contact media@leadershipiq.com

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