Laurier researcher Lindie Liang and her co-authors are exploring how employees might deal with aggressive supervisors and dysfunctional leadership in a unique way.
Their research paper Righting a wrong: Retaliation on a voodoo doll symbolizing an abusive supervisor restores justice was recently published in the journal Leadership Quarterly.
An assistant professor at the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics, Liang began exploring the topic during her PhD dissertation, when she studied the notion of employees retaliating against supervisors after they had experienced aggression.
"Lashing out on your supervisor is bad, but people still do it, so it must serve a function," Liang says. "I felt that there must be some way to restore an employee's sense of justice without actually sabotaging their supervisors."
Based on established research demonstrating that voodoo dolls can aid in personal relationships, Liang's team of researchers developed an online study to assess aggression and better understand the function of retaliation as a means to restore justice perceptions.
"We felt that the use of voodoo dolls was shown to be a really valid way to study aggression," Liang says.
The study asked participants to recall and visualize an abusive workplace interaction. Some participants were then asked to manipulate an online voodoo doll, while some did not have that option.
Liang and her team discovered that participants who were able to engage in voodoo retaliation actually had a greater sense of justice than those who did not.
"This is significant because past research has linked an employee's sense of justice in the workplace to long-term effects on job satisfaction and stress," Liang says.
Liang and her co-authors further explored this topic in their paper The Dimensions and Mechanisms of Mindfulness in Regulating Aggressive Behaviors, published in November 2017 in the Journal of Applied Psychology.
Liang looked at the two dimensions of mindfulness: mindful awareness, which is being undivided from the present moment; and mindful acceptance, which is the acceptance of feelings without judgment. She wanted to understand how effective these dimensions are in regulating aggressive behaviours.
Participants were asked to recall a negative incident with a supervisor. Mindfulness statements focused on mindful awareness, mindful acceptance or mind wandering - which represents a baseline of mental state - then popped up on a screen. After, participants were asked to insert pins into an online voodoo doll. The number of pins were used to measure their levels of aggression.
"It was the awareness dimension that played the more critical role in regulating aggressive behaviours," Liang says. "If you're aware of the present moment you can register that you're feeling angry instead of lashing out immediately as the first reaction."
Liang says this research suggests that workplaces might benefit from mindfulness training, especially training focused on mindful awareness.