Yes, There are Benefits to Stabbing a Voodoo Doll of Your Boss

By: Lauren Mineau

Many of us have had a boss that’s gotten under our skin or we didn’t see eye to eye with.  Rather than letting resentment and anger build, new research says this form of “therapy” can help ease tensions.

Get a voodoo doll.

A new study published in The Leadership Quarterly found that when an employee feels anger or stress about work, stabbing pins into a voodoo doll can help manager the anger – as well as serve as a better alternative to bottling up the feelings, or worse.

The study, led by psychologist Dr. Lindie Hanyu Liang, an assistant professor at the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada, found that engaging in "symbolic retaliation" against one's boss after perceived mistreatment eased participants' bitterness.

In one experiment, approximately 200 full-time employees were asked to think of a time they thought they had been mistreated by their supervisor. This could include rudeness, negative comments, or failure to acknowledge hard work. Some were given one minute to take revenge on a virtual voodoo doll including sticking the doll with pins, pinching it with pliers or burning it with a candle. Then, participants had to complete a fill-in-the-blank word activity.

Those who were given the change to take out some aggression on their boss reported later as feeling better about the situation versus those who did not participate in the voodoo doll activity.

The authors concluded that harmless retaliation not only benefits individuals, but may also benefit the company as a whole. An employees' sense of justice and being able to express feelings is important for their well-being and performance on the job, the authors noted.

All in all, researchers summarized that you may not need to specifically draw up a voodoo doll identical to your boss. But bottling up emotions of any kind isn’t good. So let it out, but try not to get caught – that would be an awkward explanation.

See the full study here.

Update September 2018: The research recently won an Improbable Research award, an honor given to research that makes people laugh then think. More on that here.