Laurier professor researches the role of voodoo dolls in the workplace

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Recent research at Wilfrid Laurier University has focused on leadership in the workplace and mechanisms of employee retaliation that restore justice.

Lindie Liang, a professor of the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics at WLU, has been studying dysfunctional leadership behaviour and employee retaliation in the workplace.

Liang’s research hopes to provide empirical evidence of previous theories concerning employees that retaliate in the workplace. Her study uses voodoo dolls as a way to test justice and retaliation in participants.

“Based on my past research of dysfunctional leadership I found that one of the main consequences is that employees, when they are being abused by their supervisors in the workplace, they retaliate,” Liang said. “Our research clarifies some empirical evidence of theories that people retaliate because it serves a function, they want justice.”

Liang has been conducting this research since her PhD dissertation in 2013-14 where she studied the notion of employees retaliating against supervisors after they had experienced aggression.

Liang’s study was conducted online, assigning participants randomly into one of three groups.

The first group was asked to recall a time when their supervisor abused them in the workplace, as a way to recreate a workplace situation. Participants were then provided with an online voodoo doll for one minute where they were asked to label the doll as their supervisor.

This study tested the participant’s response and assessed their justice perception.

The second group also recalled an abusive workplace situation although were asked to trace the outline of the voodoo doll and label it as nobody. The final group served as a baseline group to assess justice perception.

“The voodoo doll is used simply because it’s a convenient way to manipulate a psychological state of retaliation, so once they stab the doll they feel symbolically retaliated against their supervisor,” Liang said. “We just used it as a way to test retaliation.”

Despite the amount of research that highlights the negatives of workplace retaliation, many employees continue to retaliate after being abused by their supervisor.

“Say your boss said something to you and you’re feeling angry, you retaliate but then that’s bad for your career, you probably won’t get that promotion, but employees do this all the time,” Liang said.

Liang’s most recent paper looks at mindfulness interventions on how to train employees to be more mindful. Liang’s mindfulness research also used voodoo dolls as a way to measure an employee’s aggression. Participants were asked to insert pins into the online voodoo doll and the number of pins used measured their level of aggression.

Her focus is on management rather than punishing an employee for retaliation against their supervisor, and also looking at supervisor behaviour.

“The goal of my research is to promote more effective leadership behaviours in the workplace,” Liang said.

Liang has been conducting this research since her PhD dissertation in 2013-14 where she studied the notion of employees retaliating against supervisors after they had experienced aggression.

“As researchers, we’re advocating for people to alleviate or mitigate retaliation,” Liang said.

“In this way maybe rather than being abused in the workplace, employees can rather than immediately retaliating against your supervisor keep in mind there are alternatives that are harmless.”

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