There are a lot of things your boss can do to improve morale around the office, but if they really want to give the team a feel-good boost, there’s one pretty weird solution to consider.
Flexible work arrangements are good, working from home is even better. And everybody loves pay rises. But in addition to these obvious crowd-pleasers, it turns out keeping a voodoo doll of your boss in the office is also great for keeping team spirits high.
Yep, we’re not making this up. That’s the upshot of a new international study led by psychologist Lindie Hanyu Liang from Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada, who found acts of “symbolic retaliation” against bosses after perceived mistreatment were an effective means of soothing aggrieved employees.
“As weird as it sounds, yes,” Liang told The Telegraph.
“We found a simple and harmless symbolic act of retaliation can make people feel like they’re getting even and restoring their sense of fairness.”
To test their hypothesis, Liang and her team recruited approximately 400 participants with work experience for experiments designed to check whether acts of symbolic retaliation against their managers could restore a sense of emotional justice.
In the first experiment, the team took over 195 full-time employees and asked them to recall and visualise a workplace interaction from their past where their supervisor had treated them with hostile behaviour, such as being rude, making negative comments, or failing to acknowledge their hard work.
Then it was payback time.
After the flashback, some of the participants were encouraged to take out their frustrations on a virtual voodoo doll that represented their supervisor, using an arsenal of punishment tools – such as pins, pliers, fire – to exact their revenge for a delicious, vindictive minute.
Those that did this reported experiencing significantly reduced perceptions of injustice after the voodoo doll session, compared to other participants who didn’t get a chance to symbolically retaliate against their manager.
A follow-up experiment involving 206 business school students with work experience produced similar results, and the researchers think these morale boost effects probably aren’t restricted to sticking pins into a boss-shaped pin cushion.
“It may not have to be a voodoo doll per se,” Liang says.
“Theoretically anything that serves as a symbolic act of retaliation, like throwing darts at a picture of your boss, might work.”
Now there’s a fine idea for the wall in your break room – although the workplace health and safety types might have something to say about it.
Of course, isn’t this sort of violent retaliation – even if it’s totally pretend – kind of… wrong? If not morally, at least from a staff management perspective?
The team behind the study don’t think so, suggesting their experiments present a “counter narrative” to the prevailing view that all acts of retaliation against abusive supervision are necessarily bad.
While actual retaliation against your boss is not exactly a great career move, the team thinks a symbolic outlet isn’t similarly self-defeating, and these voodoo (or darts) sessions could go a long way to improving a sense of justness in employees’ minds.
Makes a lot of sense… but we don’t know if we’ll be bringing this one up at our next team meeting. At least one person in the room might not be on board.
The findings are reported in The Leadership Quarterly.