When is Public Shaming Appropriate at Work?

When is Public Shaming Appropriate at Work?

By Pira Kumarasamy


Imagine working for a company where every mistake you make is publicized to your entire team by way of a ‘ding’ board. In fact, it becomes an ongoing competition – and not the kind that ends with a trophy or pizza lunch – of who can get the most dings. It may sound unbelievable, but it’s a scenario that can actually happen in an office.

Embarrassing your colleagues in the workplace can decrease morale and lead to an unhappy work environment. In order to cope, you must first ask yourself why it’s happening, then make a decision on how you want to respond.


What is public shaming?

Public shaming is the act of discrediting an individual in front of their peers. Whether it’s a ‘ding’ board or your boss calling you out in a meeting, it is very real for many employees and can cause unduly stress. When done diplomatically and discreetly, however, it can be an effective means to achieving your desired end result.  

When it is appropriate and how to respond

Public shaming can cause a toxic work environment, and it’s rarely an appropriate approach to dealing with issues in the workplace. That being said, some colleagues believe that a little anonymous humiliation can help motivation. For instance, calling out a group that hasn’t completed a specific task may motivate them to do better.

If you feel the need to bring up an issue with a colleague and the only way is to do it publicly, think twice before taking action. We suggest sending an email to your colleague(s) or setting a private meeting to ask them if they need help completing a task that will affect your professional objectives. If this does not work, talk to your manager and make them aware of the situation.

Now, as an employee that has been shamed, think about how you’d like to respond. Did you feel personally attacked? Was there a legitimate reason for shaming your group? Set aside time to speak with your manager or your colleagues and use it as an opportunity to get feedback and let them know how you feel. After all, the relationship between employees and employers is a two way street. 


Know your rights and consequences

It’s one thing to call out a group in a discreet manner, but directly calling out an individual is a whole other matter. Individual humiliation can be interpreted as workplace harassment, and shouldn’t be taken lightly. If you feel like you’re being harassed at work, know your rights. 

First, look into your company’s policies around harassment in the workplace. If you think there has been a violation, speak to someone in human resources. They are trained to respond to issues exactly like this. Make sure to keep a detailed log of incidents. If your workplace doesn’t have policies in place, take a look at your province’s legislation around occupational health and safety. For instance, under Bill 168, workplaces in Ontario are required to have proper guidelines around workplace violence and harassment. If something seems amiss, consult with a human rights lawyer and/or file a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

Finally, make sure you are aware of the consequences if you are an employee that has already shamed or plans to shame a colleague publicly. Generally speaking, it probably won’t make you the most popular person in the office and in fact, your colleagues won’t see you as a team player. This could have long-term repercussions on your workplace image and will make going into work less enjoyable.


As an employee, the best course of action to avoid shaming and being shamed is to regularly touch base with your colleagues and work together to reach company objectives. Communication is the key to creating a happy and productive workplace.