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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 August, 2004, 15:16 GMT 16:16 UK
When office work turns ugly
By Ben Richardson
BBC News Online business reporter

Angry man
Pulling your hair out? Stop getting riled and start getting even
Office life is fraught with tension.

A colleague's laugh may get on your nerves; the boss's last-minute requests could ruin your weekend.

Many of us head to the gym or the pub to ease stress, but an increasing number are developing a taste for revenge.

Just take a look at the internet.

There are websites where you can post horror stories about aggressive, lewd, racist or sexist colleagues.

Others proffer advice on how best to get your own back, with methods ranging from the prosaic, such as hiding stationery, to the outright dangerous - like spiking drinks with laxatives.

Out of control?

These acts may seem trivial, but the problem with revenge is that if the cause of the resentment is not addressed, things can escalate very quickly.

I expect to see more revenge... The problem is that people store revenge up
Professor Cary Cooper, Lancaster University

Small acts of defiance and theft can eventually lead to vandalism, malicious lawsuits, violence and even death.

Cary Cooper is head of occupational psychology at Lancaster University's management school, and is concerned about the effect of greater frustration and anger in the workplace.

"I expect to see more revenge," he says. "The number of potential sources are enormous.

"The problem is that people store revenge up. They don't confront what is responsible for the problem."

Verbal agreement

What makes things especially tricky is that much of the conflict stems from the psychological contract that exists between an employer and employee.

Toilet signs
Without trust, a working relationship can quickly head down the pan

Not documented, this agreement covers what both sides expect from any business relationship.

On her website, clinical psychologist Joni Johnston says there are "unwritten ground rules, assumptions and expectations that govern an employee's working relationship with the employer.

"When that contract is broken the employee, or employer, feels the same sense of betrayal as if a formal agreement had been violated - and the same desire for revenge."

So what can trigger this urge to get even?

Pretty much anything, the experts say, as long as it happens regularly enough.

Getting passed over for promotion and pay rises; being asked to work late, or through your lunch break; getting shouted at or abused.

Crank it up

The list is endless, and the requirements of many modern businesses only amplify already heightened emotions.

Man getting punched by boxing glove
It can be very tempting to take your frustrations out in a violent manner

"There is more pressure on people at work," says Robert Westlake, who oversees an employee helpline as head of clinical psychological services at health insurer Bupa.

"We are linked to deadlines, computers and mobile phones. Some personalities thrive on stress, others don't."

The trouble with talking about revenge, however, is that very few people are willing to discuss it after the event.

Sure, everyone has anecdotes about colleagues, or friends of friends, who have taught their employers lessons.

But how many will actually admit to it?

One transport manager, who asked to remain anonymous, says that while he has often been abused verbally, it is very rare for physical threats to be carried out.

If anything, he says, it is often the people that shout the loudest that were the ones to leave the quietest.

For most of us, it seems, revenge is not so palatable after all.

Less a dish that should be eaten cold, and more something that needs, well and truly, to be put on ice.

Have you ever taken revenge on a boss or colleague? Have you ever been a victim of a malicious act at work?

Here is a selection of our readers' experiences:

I was constantly being harrassed and discriminated based on national origin, religion and race. Above all these, my boss saw me as a threat to his job as I was highly appreciated by the president of the company. As this was overwhelming and eventually when I negotiated and got a sudden spike in my salary, my boss started grouping the other colleagues and mobbed me every single day, every single minute at work. This went on for over 6 months..I eventually resigned the job..At one point I thought of going to the press/media or filing a law-suit to seek justice, but I decided to let it go..The good thing is I got a new job with a higher salary couple of blocks away.
Satheesh Kumar R.S.R, Pittsburgh, USA

I very nearly lost my job through venting my frustrations in a blog to which my manager actually gained access somehow. Revenge, whether verbal or physical is never as sweet as it seems. I'll know the outcome in a few weeks time as to whether I'm a permanent fixture in the office or not. So much for free speech and democracy.
Anon, Birmingham, uk

I had a horrible boss, the other person who worked for him hated him too. I simply waited until I had enough evidence (paper with his handwriting on, emails) of the abuse and then went to his boss. His boss took him into an office and you could hear the shouting through the double doors! My boss left shortly afterwards.
Ash Thomas, Uxbridge, UK

A few years ago, working for my ex employer, I was bullied and picked on by my line manager and one of his friends who worked with us. This went on for nearly 2 years, and on some occasions he (my line manager) had me up against the wall by my neck or arms. Then, one day, he had me up against the wall again, but this time I had a witness (the security guard). As soon as he left I went to HR and called the Director of my department. I told them everything and left the company that day. Within 6 weeks he and his friend were fired. That was over 5 years ago and I saw his friend about a month ago and he's still out of work, heavily on drugs and having to do gardening for people just to support his drugs habit. It just shows what a looser he really is. Revenge is sooooo sweet!!
Andy, UK

I worked with a boss who was a CONSTANT employee abuser (to both myself and other colleagues). In the end and after I had long left the job, he applied to work in a management position at a company which a friend of mine owned. Revenge is sweet as this friend asked me for a reference. Needless to say, he didn't get the job. He still doesn't know why he didn't get the job.
Joe, The Netherlands

As an ex employee of a megolomainiac, pschizophrenic, psychopath, I feel qualified to describe the anger that can build up due to severe mistreatment from an abusive employer. Constantly being told that you are worthless and slow, when you know deep down that you are talented and efficient drives you to the point of explosion emotionally. In the end I had to quit, but what was worse was that it took me 2 years to get out, during which time I spent 50 hours a week at boiling point.
Anon, Letchworth, Herts, UK

I had a boss that used to be in the armed forces. He treated everyone as if we were all in the military. Woe to you if you questioned one of his "orders." His most famous trick was to sit in his office with his door open, call his site managers on speakerphone, and scream at them. All we site managers got together and started documenting his abuse. Those of us that left for other jobs blasted him on our exit interviews. The rest of us started a mini rebellion... We would hang up on him when he screamed at us (oops, we got disconnected), and we stopped giving him warnings (and backup) on customer issues unless he specifically asked for something. It took about 6 months for him to leave the company. The best part is that when he tried to come back, no one would hire him!
Rhonda, Michigan, USA

A job is a job. If an employer gets nasty, its usually down to some chronic insecurity that they have. Rise above it. When I go home thats it. I have my life outside of work and it is these nasty people that dont. You are far better than them. Just dont go home and turn the telly on straight away as you will be bombarded with negativity which does not help.
Max Richards, wales

After repeated torrents of verbal abuse, I have to confess to on two occasions, putting laxitive in my manager's tea at mid morning tea break. The result is that she is off for at least the rest of the day, (once 2 days) giving me a slight break and affording myself and my colleagues some peace.
Bedford, UK

My boss used to regularly shout at me and show his distress and frustration (even if it was not my fault) to me in a very agressive manner. He also liked to change his plans or decisions without letting me know and then, if something happened, put all the blame for the situation on me. Certainly, I used to plot out various revenge plans. But I never tried to put them into life. I just changed the department and now it is more difficult for him to reach me. But I still wish I could use my revenge plans and I just tell myself to wait till there will be a favorable situation to implement them.
Oksana, Moscow, Russia

I had a young female boss who sat with her supervisor in an open office and watched me sweat all morning because 40.00 was missing from the petty cash till and i could not tally it up. When i went to her she and her young side kick giggled and laughed and said yes I took it and did not leave a slip.. how sadistic to watch someone squirm and worry all morning. they thought it was a big joke. How i hated her childish ways.
lyndsay, watchet, somerset

I was passed over for promotion for the third time. The new supervisor was loud, obnoxious and lazy, and every time I was out of the office she would help herself to anything off my desk. I have to admit to hiding her stationery, and everone else in our office thought she deserved it. She actually started to cry when she couldn't find her stapler, and took two days off sick due to stress!
emma, middlesbrough

After spending 2 years working in an office which involved being on call 24/7 and working most weekends, with no complaints and an 3 promotions, I handed in my notice to start a job closer to home. On informing my manager I was told that I was usless and they were glad I was leaving. The company refused to write a reference or let me take leave for study and holiday that I was owed. So I worked my notice and kept quiet. I've carried out my revenge, but nobody will notice for a few months. It's not a good idea to anoy staff who have access to your entire computer network.
anon, uk

In my previous job three of my colleagues tokk a disliking to me pretty quickly. One of them decided to accuse me of breaking into her desk drawers while she was on holiday and stealing from them (a roll of binbags would you believe). Fortunatly after a grilling I convinced my boss the accusation was malicious. However petty little acts like this continued (telling tales about mistakes I made etc) to the point where I was off sick for 2 months with severe depression and had to leave my job.
Lindsey, Leeds, UK

Worse than any of the above is the aftermath of dating somebody you work with. There's nothing worse than all your colleagues being told what a b*stard you are!
Paul Madley, Manchester

It is possible to get caught up in the emotional heat of the moment, especially if one is irritated by the habits or personality of others.. However, 'revenge' is an awfully undignified way to vent anger. One option is simply to leave your job - easier said than done I know - or considering a wholesale lifestyle change. Life is short and there are plenty of options for all of us.
Gordon, London

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