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Business/Economy

Be proactive when confronted with workplace revenge

  • Author: Lynne Curry
    | Alaska Workplace
  • Updated: July 15
  • Published July 15

Through no fault of her own, “Loni” almost lost her job. When she called me requesting coaching, she told me told me she’d been with her company for 11 months. For the first nine, she’d been on the fast-track to a senior management position. Two months ago, everything changed. Last Friday morning, her CEO had told her to “pull it together or you’re out.” She said several recent disasters had led her company’s CEO to lose confidence in her.

Loni said she’d mislaid crucial documents, had apparently sent unprofessional emails that she hadn’t remembered writing and had submitted shoddy work on key assignments because her rough first drafts had been transmitted rather than her polished final drafts.

Since her dad had dementia, Loni worried she might be showing early signs of the same illness. Loni told me she’d visited her dad’s physician and he’d told her dementia could start with subtle short-term memory changes.

I asked Loni to give me a chronology of the recent problems and asked her if anything had changed at work just before the problems started. She said, “Nothing,” and when I pressed her, insisted she’d been on a “winning streak.” She mentioned that the CEO had publicly praised her in an “all hands” meeting.

I asked, “Exactly when did he praise you?”; “Who has access to your office?”; “When you go across the hall or out for a short meeting, do you lock your computer?”; and “What are your relationships like with those you work most closely with?”

Loni gave me a copy of the problem emails her CEO referenced in his meeting with her. Together, we searched her sent log looking for them and didn’t find them. Loni described the two women who worked most directly with and closest to her office as caring individuals. She said one in particular had been incredibly helpful in trying to help her find lost documents.

“Mind if I interview her?” I asked. My spidey-sense kicked on during the interview, particularly when the other employee described Loni as “spacey,” but acted as if she mentioned this with great reluctance.

When I told Loni what I sensed and precautions she needed to take, she asked if I’d talk with her CEO. He brought HR into the picture, and when the employee who described Loni as spacey was interviewed in the guise of investigating Loni’s problems, this employee accused Loni of delegating all her “grunt work” while taking full credit for the final products, making belittling comments and abusing her power and position once she’d begun to rise in the corporate hierarchy.

The diagnosis: workplace revenge, which occurs more frequently than many realize and may have its genesis in the target’s actions. If you suspect others of taking revenge, here’s what to look for:

• Have you lost documents even though you keep an organized workspace?

• Are rumors about you floating around the workplace?

• Are there items in your sent log you didn’t originate?

• Have documents you created disappeared from your computer?

• Does someone have a vested interest in you being fired?

• Do you sense you’re being sabotaged, particularly after receiving a promotion or other honor?

An internet survey revealed these real-life statements I’ve paraphrased (from realbusiness.co.uk and financialsamurai.com).

1. The cling film over the toilet seat thing is so last year. I fixed the restroom light sensor to plunge the room into darkness after one minute.

2. I make sure there’s a huge wheelie bin parked in the boss’s personal parking space. Sends a message.

3. After I my employer stiffed me on a business deal, I pretended to be a new major customer and set up meetings. On the day we’d arranged for the sales presentation, I heard there were loads of panicked emails from sales-team members who kept driving in circles trying to find my offices. Pure joy.

4. My boss took credit for a 200-page report I wrote and received a huge bonus. Was it wrong of me wipe out all of his department’s computer files?

5. Pretend you’re not pissed off at your employer for making life so difficult you resign. Maintain relationships with your former manager and HR. Suggest the worst possible employee for them to hire as your replacement. Definitely vouch for this person and sing her praises.

Why do people take revenge on others and what happens to them? Those who commit revenge generally feel justified. They often cover up continued sabotage with aggressively helpful efforts once their target’s career begins to plummet. Interestingly, reports on insurancequotes.com document that 83% of those who commit revenge get away with it.

Worried that revenge infects your workplace? You can find out with a bit of sleuthing.

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