Are You Taking Responsibility for Your Actions? 4 Ways to Foster Accountability at Work

A woman and man sitting together at a desk, looking at a laptop to show the importance of taking responsibility for your actions at work

We all want a healthy and fulfilling work life. But for many of us, that can seem like a distant dream. Office politics, highly competitive workplaces, and professional inconsistency can rapidly create working environments that are nothing short of toxic.

One of the biggest indicators of a toxic workplace is accountability or, rather, the lack of it. Today, we’ll be talking about the importance of professional accountability and how you can start taking responsibility for your actions at work.

What’s the difference between a healthy work environment and a toxic work environment?

A healthy working environment is one whereby teams operate within a workplace culture built on high-quality communication, cooperation, and mutual respect. Healthy working environments embed positive values into their structures and practices to nurture positive and empowering environments that encourage productivity and a commitment to excellence for all team members.

One of the biggest indicators of a healthy working environment is that everyone from the executive board to the workers are committed to accountability in the workplace. In other words, everyone feels open and able to take responsibility for their actions.

When this doesn’t happen, cultural toxicity can take root. Signs that your workplace is toxic might include any, or all, of the following:

  • People do not take responsibility for their own actions
  • Communication is consistently poor and lacking in clarity
  • Workplace cliques indulge in gossip and/or exclusive behaviors
  • Senior staff regularly pass the blame onto employees
  • Staff are unmotivated and employee turnover is high

What does it really mean to take responsibility?

What does professional accountability actually entail in practical terms? Taking responsibility means being aware and open about your actions and their consequences. A culture of transparency and accountability fosters better workplace relationships as well as overall job satisfaction.

Accountability is vital to the running of any good company. As well as being open about our own mistakes and limitations, accountability also involves being able to give and take constructive feedback with composure and respect. Being aware of one’s limitations, strengths, and weaknesses is vital to maintaining a healthy workplace.

Why then, do people often fail to take responsibility for their actions?

In reality, there are many possible explanations. People avoid taking responsibility for all sorts of reasons. Examples include, if an employee doesn’t feel that their beliefs align well with company values, if someone doesn’t agree with the manager’s approach to leadership, or if employees don’t feel adequately supported in the workplace. 

In fact, sometimes toxic workplace cultures can become so pervasive that people don’t even realize that they are shifting the blame on a regular basis.

Let’s take a moment to check in with ourselves and ask some hard-hitting questions.

Below I’ve listed some workplace accountability red flags. These are signs that you, your colleagues, your managers, or your bosses might not be holding yourselves professionally accountable at work.

Workplace accountability red flags

  • Regularly making excuses
  • Doing anything to “win”
  • Regularly blaming or criticizing others
  • Holding back information
  • Avoiding negative feedback

How to start taking responsibility for your actions at work

It’s never too late to start improving your own professional accountability. Taking responsibility for your actions at work can be daunting (especially if you’re in the wrong), but transparency is the foundation of truly healthy and constructive working relationships.

So, here are some actionable steps we can all take that will help us start taking responsibility for our actions and embodying a culture of professional accountability to be proud of.

1.  Identify your triggers

Identify those things that trigger you to shirk responsibility most often. Which workplace situations make you want to run for the hills and avoid responsibility at any cost? What is it that makes you feel that way? Identifying these triggers is the first step toward taking charge of your actions.

2.  Stop Blaming Others

Blaming others for our own mistakes is highly damaging to employee relationships. People will quickly lose trust in someone who constantly shifts the blame onto others. Plus, it’s exhausting and will most likely leave you feeling incredibly guilty. 

3.  Stop Making Excuses

Shirking individual responsibility often goes hand-in-hand with the blame card. Most often, this behavior comes from a place of insecurity. After all, nobody wants to get into trouble or face the embarrassment that comes with messing up. 

Ideally, a healthy working environment creates a safe space for employees to be open and honest about their mistakes. It’s a vicious cycle. Toxic environments encourage excuse-making and excuse-making produces toxic environments. We can’t expect collective responsibility if we are not willing to be responsible ourselves.  

It’s important to be able to forgive yourself when things go wrong. Unfortunately, some environments may make this seem like an impossible task, which leads us on to point number four.

4.  (If necessary) find a new working environment

If you want to model professional accountability at work but your workplace makes it neigh-on impossible to do so without ending up in the dog house, then it might be worth hitting those job boards so that you can remove yourself from that toxic environment once and for all. It’s not always possible to lead by example. Some working environments are just too toxic.

How companies can reduce workplace toxicity and promote employee accountability

While individual responsibility is important, it’s also crucial that organizations encourage a culture of healthy accountability from within. This is the structural foundation for a productive and rewarding professional environment.

Managers and bosses can start to nurture spaces where employees feel able to take accountability for their actions in the following ways:

  • Acknowledge successes
  • Maintain an open-door policy
  • Encourage teamwork, collaboration, and a “helping-hand” mentality
  • Maintain consistent communication about short and long-term company values and goals
  • Lead by example
  • Create opportunities for workplace socializing 

Start taking responsibility today

Workplace accountability is the cornerstone of a healthy and happy workplace, but it can be incredibly daunting to start putting it into practice. If you feel like your team or organization needs a culture shift, take my cultural toxicity assessment. This will help you learn more about what kind of situation you may be facing.

Then, schedule a meeting with me to talk about your results. Like other clients, with my coaching services, we can find actionable strategies to help you and your team start moving toward a culture of accountability.