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I’m sure we’ve all had bosses that have driven us mad.  Inevitably thoughts drift through our heads of the dastardly things we’d like to do to that individual to get them back for the perceived hell they’re putting us through.

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For the record, I should probably state that I don’t personally believe that such behaviour helps you and a victim mentality can easily set in whereby the perceived slight gets bigger and bigger.  Alas, for those of you who fancy a bit of retribution in the workplace, new research sheds some light on when you can take the mental voodoo doll and turn it into physical acts of retaliation.

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The researchers surveyed professionals in the San Francisco area and based each question around two hypothetical workplace situations.

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The first involved a manager that sexually harassed one of his employees, who was forced to leave as a result.  The manager subsequently needs something from the friend of the harassed individual.  People were asked to rate the acceptability of certain actions, from actively hiding the file to playing dumb and pretending ignorance of its location.

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The result of the survey found that people generally frowned upon taking active measures to hurt the boss (hiding the file in this case), but found inaction (i.e. playing dumb) a much more palatable course of action.

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In the second scenario, a boss gave a bonus to his friend in the office rather than the best performing individual on their team.  The boss then turns to the shunned individual for help in picking a marketing plan.  Here responses were more divided.  If an answer was required by the boss immediately respondents were divided 50/50 between helping or not.  When time pressure was removed, however, and the option of ignoring the request opened up, 25% took that route, thus meaning those that would punish the boss in some way rose to 59%.

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To add further intrigue to the research, it was found that the passive retaliation approach was favoured by women, with men preferring more direct retaliation.

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With the number of people unhappy with their bosses at an all-time high, managers of all types should be aware of the often hidden consequences of their behaviour and look to adopt a fairer approach to their work to prevent the passive withdrawal of effort highlighted by the study.

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Is it possible to measure dissension in the ranks?  Does it pay to get grievances in the open before they fester?  Let me know your thoughts below.

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Adi Gaskell is the editor of The Management Blog for the Chartered Management Institute, the leading professional body for managers and leaders in the  UK.

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