Revenge against your boss: When is it too much?


A new study says that active retaliation against your boss is more serious than withholding knowledge.

As a veterinary team member-or any type of employee, for that matter-your boss has probably done something to upset you at one time or another. Perhaps he overlooked an accomplishment or didn't give you a raise you worked hard to earn. If you've ever thought about getting revenge for a boss's foibles, you're not alone. According to a study by labor relations expert David Levine, retaliating against your boss is more acceptable to other employees if the retaliation is an act of omission or inaction rather than active efforts to harm an unfair boss.

The study presented respondents with hypothetical scenarios and asked them to judge how acceptable they find an employee's response. For example, in one scenario a boss who has misbehaved needs to find an important file. Respondents found it more acceptable for an employee not to tell his boss where the file was located than for the employee to actually hide the file from his boss. The study's author says that taking action is a more serious offense than withholding knowledge.

The study set out to determine what factors make retaliation acceptable to employees when a manager or boss misbehaves. However, be aware that the research did not examine the ethics of employee retaliation. And while employee sabotage has a bad reputation, researchers note that in some cases, retaliation may expose managerial misbehavior and could improve organizational effectiveness in the long term.

Researchers say the study holds valuable lessons for managers, too. The most important lesson: Don't surprise people. When something is about to go wrong or it does goes wrong, tell your employees why. Managers face high risks of active retaliation and passive withdrawal of effort if employees are harmed by what they view as a conscious management choice. To the extent that employees are harmed, managers should be sure employees see them sharing the pain-not profiting from employees' losses.

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