March 30, 2011
Is revenge against a bad boss ever acceptable?
Depends on how you avenge yourself, say researchers from UC Berkeley's Hass School of Business and UC Santa Barbara.
In a study recently published in the journal Industrial Relations, respondents said that getting back at a resented boss is "more acceptable" if vengeance comes in the form of "an act of omission or inaction" rather than a direct act of sabotage.
Specifically, survey respondents were more likely to condone getting even with an unfair or disliked boss when the retaliatory act consisted of not telling the boss the location of a critical file that had gone missing as opposed to hiding that all-important file from the boss in the first place.
"Intuition says that doing something is more of a serious act than letting it happen and not stopping it, "said UC Berkeley professor David Levine, a labor relations expert who co-authored the study.
Curious about how such petty forms of office payback play out in the real world, I informally polled some readers and colleagues online, asking whether they had ever sought retribution against a manager they felt had treated them badly. Most of the responses I received were of the intentional ilk as opposed to acts of sabotage made by omitting a key piece of information.
Among the stories I heard: unplugging the boss's computer when she wasn't looking, shredding the carefully crafted spreadsheets the boss had printed (and left) on the community printer, sneaking a few squirts of dishwashing soap in the fresh pots of tea the big cheese was so fond of drinking.
Unfortunately for petty revenge seekers (but fortunately for their managers), the opportunities to stab the boss in the back by omitting a key piece of information are usually few and far between. After all, it's not every day a supervisor who peeves you appears in your doorway with a wad of spinach between her front teeth just minutes before giving a big presentation.
Still, I'm inclined to think that omission vs. intention isn't the issue so much as deciding whether we'll get caught committing such petty acts and whether these acts will weigh on our conscience and violate whatever moral codes we've chosen to live by. Disappearing a printout probably isn't cost your job or that of your boss. Nor is it likely to keep you awake at night racked with guilt and questioning what kind of a bitter wretch you've become. Most of us, however, wouldn't dare plow into the boss's parked car in the office garage or delete an important report due the next morning from his hard drive.
What do you think? When it comes to unfair or unlikeable managers, how much (if any) retaliation is okay? Have you ever sought revenge against a jerk of a boss? How so? By letting her hang herself, or by handing her the rope to do it with?
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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