Workplace revenge

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Workplace revenge, or workplace retaliation, refers to the general action of purposeful retaliation within the workplace. Retaliation often involves a power imbalance; the retaliator is usually someone with more power in the workplace than the victim, and retaliation may be done to silence the victim so the retaliator can avoid accountability for workplace bullying, workplace harassment, or other misbehaviors in the workplace. Retaliation, legally, refers to actions taken as punishment for legally permitted behaviors: disciplinary actions taken by employers in reaction to behaviors that are counter to applicable laws or to established institutional policies are permitted as part of the employer's ability to control the work environment.[1]

Retaliation: work-related vs. social[edit]

Acts of retaliation within an organization can be categorized in two ways: work-related retaliation and social retaliation. "Work retaliation victimization involves adverse work-related actions that have the purpose or effect of negatively altering the target’s job and that are intended by the instigator or perceived by the target to be a reprisal for the target’s behavior."[2] This categorization of workplace revenge concerns work-related actions that are often tangible, formal, and documented in employment records. Examples include termination, demotion, poor performance appraisal, and cutting hours.[3]

On the other hand, "social retaliation victimization involves antisocial behaviors that have the purpose or effect of negatively altering the target’s interpersonal relations with other organizational members and that are intended by the instigator or perceived by the target to be a reprisal for the target’s behavior."[2] This type of retaliatory action refers to behaviors between members of an organization, both verbal and nonverbal, that often go undocumented. Examples of this type include harassment, insulting, blame, threats, or the "silent treatment." These acts of workplace revenge have the purpose of negatively altering the victim's interpersonal relations with other organizational members as well as potentially affecting work productivity.

Retaliation as a form of justice[edit]

An employee might seek justice in response to workplace revenge. The concept of organizational justice has been defined in three categories:

  • distributive justice concerns the outcome of allocation, based on equality, equity, power, need, or responsibility.[4] An example of this is the perceived fairness of distribution of tasks within an organization.
  • procedural justice is the way in which individuals perceive the fairness of procedures that result from a decision process within an organization.[5] An example would include ample advance notice of job related changes directly affecting the employee.
  • interactional justice is the representation of behaviors associated with fairness of treatment by members within an organization, whether the interaction is between superiors to subordinates or among members of similar status.

In order to receive justice, an employee may 'retaliate' against unfair treatment by an employer, either through legal means such as filing a lawsuit or engaging in whistle-blowing to publicize illegal or inappropriate conduct by the employer, or through illegal means.

Revenge as a coping strategy[edit]

The two common responses to one's unjust behavior are forgiveness and revenge.[6] When one perceives he has been the victim of unjust behavior, he will evaluate the situation and select the appropriate coping response for the negative experience. If the victim views the situation with anger and resentment, he chooses revenge as the next necessary step. On the opposite side, if the victim is able to let go of the negative emotions attached to the circumstances, he will choose forgiveness. Individuals are more likely to forgive a transgressor if they avoid holding the transgressor accountable for the offense and if the transgressor is apologetic.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Facts About Retaliation". US EEOC. Retrieved 2023-03-24.
  2. ^ a b Cortina, Lilia M.; Magley, Vicki J. (2003). "Raising voice, risking retaliation: Events following interpersonal mistreatment in the workplace". Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. 8 (4): 247–265. doi:10.1037/1076-8998.8.4.247. ISSN 1076-8998. PMID 14570522.
  3. ^ "Retaliation". DOL. Retrieved 2023-03-24.
  4. ^ Forsyth, Donelson R. (2006). Group Dynamics (5th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning. pp. 388–89.
  5. ^ "Procedural Justice - Yale Law School". Retrieved 2023-03-24.
  6. ^ Bradfield, Murray; Aquino, Karl (1999). "The Effects of Blame Attributions and Offender Likableness on Forgiveness and Revenge in the Workplace". Journal of Management. 25 (5): 607–631. doi:10.1177/014920639902500501. ISSN 0149-2063. S2CID 143941851 – via Sage Journals.
  7. ^ Promoting Forgiveness Among Co-Workers Following a Workplace Transgression: The Effects of Social Motivation Training
  • Bradfield, M. & Aquino, K. (1999). The effects of blame attributions and offender likeableness on forgiveness and revenge in the workplace. Journal of Management, 25, 607–628.
  • Cortina, L. & Magley, V. (2003). Raising voice, risking retaliation: Events following interpersonal mistreatment in the workplace. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. 8 (4), 247–265.
  • Skarlicki, D. & Folger, R. (1997). Retaliation in the workplace: The roles of distributive, procedural, and interactional justice. Journal of Applied Psychology. 82 (3), 434–443.
  • Yoshimura, S. (2007). Goals and emotional outcomes of revenge activities in interpersonal relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. 24, 87–98.