Retaliation as a consequence of workplace mistreatment

“A shooting and gunbattle left two people dead and at least nine others wounded in front of the Empire State Building Friday, authorities said.  The shooter was one of the two killed, according to investigators. They identified him as Jeffrey Johnson, 56, who was laid off last year and apparently killed a former co-worker near the building, shooting the 41-year-old victim in the head. Clad in a business suit and carrying a briefcase, police say the gunman apparently had a longstanding dispute with the victim over allegations of harassment in the work place.” 

David Ariosto, CNN, Friday August 24

The tragic ending above is one of the worst outcomes of workplace mistreatment.  Fortunately, most types of workplace mistreatment do not get to this point. However, a significant body of research has found the victims of mistreatment retaliate in more subtle ways – ways that can cost organizations money!

Mitchell and Ambrose found that victims of mistreatment from supervisors were more likely to retaliate against both the supervisor and the organization, by engaging in deviance.  For instance, such victims were more likely to gossip and spread rumours about their supervisor, and be rude to the supervisor. They were also more likely to come to work late, take longer breaks, neglect supervisor instructions, and put little effort into their work. These behaviors have clear costs for organizations.

Several other studies have found similar results – employees who feel mistreated get even!

One of the challenges for individuals who are mistreated is that there are few constructive ways to redress their concerns. For example, Cortina and Magley found that when victims tried to engage in more constructive responses, such as reporting their mistreatment or confronting the perpetrator, the mistreatment often got worse. In other words, the perpetrator tended to redouble their efforts to mistreat the victim.

It seems without a constructive way to respond, victims try to regain control in whatever way they can. This often translates into subtle yet expensive forms of retaliation against the organization and the perpetrator.

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