Feeling Angry at your Boss? Try a Voodoo Doll

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First, thank you, thank you, thank you, to the scientists who dreamed up this study.  It takes a special kind of inquiring mind to ask the question: would aggrieved workers feel better if they stuck pins in a voodoo doll that represents their boss?  The answer, unsurprisingly, is yes.

According to an article on the SHRM (Society for Human Resources Management) site, “Two studies—one involving a survey of 195 full-time working adults in the U.S. and Canada, and another of 150 business-school students at Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU) in Waterloo, Ontario—looked at whether symbolically retaliating against an abusive supervisor restores a sense of justice.”

Lead researcher Lindie H. Liang, assistant professor at WLU’s Lazaridis School of Business and Economics, said, “The dolls served as “harmless acts of symbolic retaliation against their supervisor.” The stress relieving action may have an impact on productivity, stress-related illness, tardiness, and absenteeism, making voodoo dolls a valuable workplace tool. But wisely, the researchers recommend that management focus on fixing the underlying morale problems rather than simply handing out dolls.

Negative emotions are generally not expressed in the workplace; we try to suppress anger and unhappiness because we view them as unprofessional. But Peter Jordan, Griffith Business School, Griffith University, writing for a site called theconversation.com, says: “Research shows that human beings experience more negative emotions than positive emotions, and that this is an evolutionary response enabling self-protection. Indeed, the number of words we have for negative emotions in the English language far outweighs the number of words we have for positive emotions.” It’s not healthy to swallow anger on a regular basis.

Anger in the workplace is usually a response to a perceived injustice. Nando Pelusi Ph.D., writing for Psychology Today, says “Injustice collecting springs from a sensible motive: the monitoring of fairness as a form of self-protection, an impulse that evolved among social creatures who depended on one another. Nursing grudges may have raised our odds of survival and reproduction, however unconsciously.” We get angry, he says, when we spot freeloaders or someone we think has broken the social contract. And we get more angry when we feel helpless to correct the injustice, as, for example, when we think our boss is being unfair.

Pelusi has some suggestions for dealing with anger caused by workplace injustice. Among them:

  • It’s not all or nothing. “Does this injustice have to affect all areas of my life every second?” The answer better be, “Definitely not.” Nor is unfairness in all ways a disadvantage—unless you define it as such.
  • Make a choice. “Can I still work to build a meaningful life in spite of this unfairness and disadvantage?” If you have trouble saying yes, realize you are making a choice—by refusing to get over something you cannot change.
  • Question your anger. If you find yourself grieving excessively about an injustice, stop yourself and ask, “Will the situation change by my being upset?”
  • Mind your language. Instead of saying, “This is unfair,” say, “This is annoying.” It is what it is. This verbal shift will help you keep perspective.

Or buy a voodoo doll.  Here’s a link with a nice selection for convenient purchase and 2-day delivery.


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