Personal Growth

You Can Improve Workplace Morale by Poking a Voodoo Doll of Your Boss

We've all been there. You've put your heart and soul into a major project at work, only for your boss to swoop in at the last second and change absolutely everything. Or worse — they take credit for the whole thing. Argh! So aggravating. Well, it turns out that acting on that anger can be good for office morale. As long as you do it to a doll.

Poke the Boss

So we've already told you how venting isn't necessarily the best thing for your emotional health. But according to a new study, it could be good for the entire office if employees are given an outlet for expressing their frustration with those in management and leadership. To see if a little harmless retaliation could reduce the sting of perceived injustice, study co-author Lindie H. Liang recruited about 400 professionals and business-school students to try stabbing their anger away.

In one experiment, the volunteers were asked to remember an incident from their past where a supervisor had treated them rudely, unjustly, or simply ignored their accomplishments. Then the researchers showed them a virtual voodoo doll. One group was asked to label the doll with their boss's initials, then torment their tiny stuffed superior with virtual pins, pliers, and even open flames. The other group was asked to label the doll as "Nobody" and simply trace the doll's outline.

Later, the researchers asked both groups to rate how much they agreed with statements about their incident with a supervisor, such as "My supervisor ridicules me" or "My supervisor tells me my thoughts or feelings are stupid." The group that was able to take revenge on a doll reported a much lower level of frustration than those that didn't have the chance to act out. Maybe the problem with venting is that it doesn't go far enough?

Better Living Through Voodoo

So let's say that you're an employer and you want to improve office morale. Does that mean that you've got to swallow your pride and nail up a doll of yourself in the break room? Not necessarily, Dr. Liang told the Telegraph. "It may not have to be a voodoo doll per se: theoretically anything that serves as a symbolic act of retaliation."

In other words, you might decorate a dartboard with your face, or spring for a piñata of yourself for the office party. But the important thing, morale-wise, is that if the boss can get over him or herself, the employees can too. A grudge-free workplace is a happy workplace, after all. But word to the wise — if you're not the boss, maybe you should keep your voodoo doll to yourself.

There's a lot more to building a better workplace than making sure employees have an inanimate object to take their frustrations out on. Take a look at S. Chris Edmond's "The Culture Engine: A Framework for Driving Results, Inspiring Your Employees, and Transforming Your Workplace" (free with your trial membership to Audible). We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

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Written by Reuben Westmaas April 9, 2018

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