According to the Health and Safety Executive, more than 12 million Britons are forced to take time off work each year because of stress and anxiety, often caused by pressure from overbearing or abusive managers.
But rather than allowing staff to brood over their mistreatment, which can be detrimental to work, business experts have suggested they should be allowed to take out their anger on voodoo dolls.
A study of 229 workers in the US and Canada found that engaging in ‘symbolic retaliation’ lowered feelings of injustice by one third.
Although revenge is often viewed negatively, the researchers say the findings highlight ‘the largely overlooked benefit of retaliation from the victim’s perspective.’
Assistant Professor Dr Lindie Liang, of Lazaridis School of Business and Economics at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario Canada said voodoo dolls could help staff
“As weird as it sounds, yes,” she said “We found a simple and harmless symbolic act of retaliation can make people feel like they're getting even and restoring their sense of fairness.
“It may not have to be a voodoo doll per se: theoretically anything that serves as a symbolic act of retaliation, like throwing darts at a picture of your boss, might work.
Symbolically retaliating against an abusive boss can benefit employees psychologically by allowing them to restore their sense of justice in the workplace.”
The participants in the study used an online voodoo doll programme created by Dumb.com, which allows users to name the effigy after their boss, and sticking it with pins, burn it with a candle, and pinch it with pliers.
Although voodoo dolls are often linked to Africa and the Americas in popular fiction, early records suggest they have their origins in the British medieval period, when people would make rag dolls or sculptures of witches - called poppetts - and pierce them with pins to inflict harm or break an enchantment.
The dolls were later mistakenly linked with Afro-Caribbean Voodoo or Vodou.
The report authors decided to embark on the study because previous research suggested that people who feel they have been treated unfairly will lash out at their abuser, but it can spark a spiral of retaliation and counter-retaliation which is detrimental in the long term.
“We wanted to see, rather than actually retaliating against the abusive boss, whether mistreated employees could benefit from harmless acts of symbolic retaliation,” added Dr Liang.
For the study, the participants were asked to recall and visualise a workplace interaction which had involved abuse from a supervisor. Some were then asked to retaliate using a voodoo doll, before all completed a task to fill in the blanks to complete words.
Those who had been allowed to stick pins in their virtual boss were far less likely to still feel bitter, and were also better at completing the word exercise.
In a paper in the journal The Leadership Quarterly, the authors conclude: “These findings suggest that retaliation not only benefits individual victims, but may also benefit the organization as a whole, given that justice perceptions is important for employee performance and well-being.”