Georgetown Professor Examines Workplace Revenge in New Book
Washington, D.C. – It happened in January 2001, when departing Clinton administration staffers removed and damaged ‘‘W’’ keys on computer keyboards throughout the White House. Outgoing staffers took revenge on their incoming Republican counterparts by making it impossible to type the new president’s nickname, “W.’’
While this is an extreme example of workplace revenge, people in all types of workplaces commit little acts of revenge every day, whether it be badmouthing a boss, giving a colleague the silent treatment or insulting a co-worker. It happens in factories, law offices, retail stores and even in the highest government offices.
So why does it happen, and what can managers do to prevent it?
In their new book, “Getting Even: The Truth About Workplace Revenge – And How to Stop it,” (Jossey-Bass 2009), Georgetown University McDonough School of Business professor Robert J. Bies joins co-author Thomas Tripp in examining the psychological and situational factors that cause workplace revenge. The authors find that workplace revenge is about justice and restoring the balance of what’s fair and right, and they offer managers some advice on how they can prevent their employees from seeking revenge.
“When people don’t feel that leaders and managers have corrected the injustice done to them, they will take matters into their own hands by getting even through revenge,” says Bies, a Georgetown professor of management and founder of the Executive Master’s in Leadership Program at the University’s McDonough School of Business. “Whether you perceive the outcome of a particular instance of revenge to be positive, negative or harmless, we believe it is wise to pay attention to all forms of revenge in the workplace.”
Grounded in 15 years of research, including more than 500 interviews with managers and workers about on-the-job revenge and retaliation, Bies and Tripp use lively anecdotes to illustrate the ways in which employees get even. The authors examine why some victims feel compelled to seek justice, and they offer readers a model that sequences avengers’ thoughts, emotions and behaviors, from the beginning of the conflict to its end. Through this model, Bies and Tripp educate employees and managers about the right and wrong ways to deal with workplace conflict, specifically revenge.
According to Bies, most cases of workplace revenge are nonviolent, but they can prove harmful, and they can result in destroyed careers or even worse. “For this reason, managers should view incidences of revenge in the workplace as a critical signal to the organization,” adds Bies.
“Acts of revenge in the workplace, even though they only rarely turn violent and may not even prove particularly costly, can be a good indication that, at best, something’s a bit off-kilter in the organization – or at worst, that things have gone deeply wrong system-wide,” explains Tripp, professor of management at Washington State University.
“(This) isn’t just the most useful and engaging book ever written on revenge in the workplace…it is the best book ever read about the root causes of destructive workplace behaviors and how to stop the vicious circles that hurt so many people and organizations,” says Robert Sutton, professor at Stanford University.
Robert J. Bies is professor of management and founder of the Executive Master’s in Leadership Program at the Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. He holds a B.A. and M.B.A. from the University of Washington and a Ph.D. from Stanford University. Bies’ current research focuses on leadership, the delivery of bad news, and revenge and forgiveness in the workplace.
Thomas M. Tripp is a professor of management at Washington State University. Tripp earned a Ph.D. in organizational behavior from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and a B.S. in psychology from the University of Washington. His research has focused on workplace conflict with emphasis onon workplace revenge and forgiveness.
About the Robert Emmett McDonough School of Business
Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business is a premier, distinguished business school located in the nation’s capital. Founded in 1957 to educate undergraduate business students through the integration of liberal arts and professional education, the McDonough School, today, has approximately 1,300 undergraduates, 620 MBA students, and more than 500 participants in its executive education programs annually. For more information about the McDonough School, visit http://msb.georgetown.edu.
About Georgetown University
Georgetown University is the oldest Catholic and Jesuit university in America, founded in 1789 by Archbishop John Carroll. Georgetown, today, is a major student-centered, international, research university offering respected undergraduate, graduate and professional programs on its three campuses in Washington, D.C. For more information about Georgetown University, visit www.georgetown.edu.