Study: "Workplace Vigilantes" No Stranger to Office

By:
Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
May 8, 2017
By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4417559

Ever meet someone who takes it upon themselves to enforce office policy, even though that's not at all their job? The type of person who, despite not being your manager, pillories you for coming into work two minutes late? Or leaving stuff in the fridge for too long? Or not wearing a tie? And then taxes management's attention by reporting it? You could be dealing with a workplace vigilante, a type of person that, according to a recent study, more than half of people have encountered at one point or another. 

"We define this ... as someone who, without any formal authority to do so, regularly brings claims to the attention of authorities, colleagues, or the general public that one or more persons in their organization has committed a moral violation, a breach of company policy, or an unjust act, and makes an effort to punish that person or persons directly or indirectly," said the study abstract. 

Combing through over 2,400 survey responses, the researchers found that 57.9 percent of people have had experience with at least one workplace vigilante, with 18 percent currently working with one, and 42 percent having worked with one or more during the course of their career.

The researchers differentiate such individuals from whistleblowers, in that a vigilante is someone who who regularly brings claims to the attention of authorities, colleagues, or the general public that one or more persons in their organization has committed what they believe is a moral violation, a breach of company policy, or an unjust act, and orchestrates an effort to punish that person or persons directly or indirectly. They tend to be in large organizations, and in unionized workforces. They're also more common in certain industries: education has the most, followed by public administration or government, and then accommodation or food services. They're also more common in companies that have formal ethics codes, as well as in those that have ethics hotlines or other formal grievance procedures. They are also slightly more likely to be women (57.4 percent). 

"This is interesting since it is possible that formal ethics codes, hotlines, and grievance procedures could make the disciplinary system more effective. On the other hand, what these codes might actually do is prime people to construe more activities as being wrong thereby increasing the likelihood that people will engage in vigilante activity. Alternatively, it could be that vigilantes using these ethical systems excessively make other employees more aware that they exist," said the study. 

These individuals generally tend to be disliked by their peers, and usually respond by avoiding them as much as possible. While workplace vigilantes might think their actions are looked on favorably by management, the paper also notes that they can also try their boss' patience, sometimes leading to them being fired for their activities, as they can have a terrible effect on office morale. 

"Given the extent of evidence in support of this phenomenon, we believe future theoretical and empirical work explaining why workplace vigilantes engage in this behavior, as well as the consequences for organizations (both good and bad), is critical," said the paper's conclusion. 

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