A view from Sue Unerman

We don't like to admit it, but vengeance can be useful

In a recent Sunday Times article, Adrian Furnham proposed the idea of a "Restoration Day" at work.

A time when the wronged confront those who have acted against them. A day every year when the wrongdoers make things right.

According to some surveys, three-quarters of people who leave their jobs do so because of a bad boss. Think about how much this must cost in terms of recruitment fees, let alone days missed through stress by those who haven’t left yet, and you can see how improving this situation has the potential to save huge amounts of money. And, of course, make people happier. No anger or misery about being unjustly treated, and therefore no need to try to get revenge.

Yet, does vengeance have its place in motivating people? We really don’t like to admit that it does as far as our own behaviour is concerned, but we will happily speculate about business deals sparked by this very human emotion. Or top performers whose whole career has been fuelled by a snub or putdown at a pivotal moment. Just because we don’t like the idea of vengeance does not mean that we can make it disappear. Until Restoration Day takes hold, perhaps it is best to confront vengeance in the workplace and work out how to use it to your advantage.

Until Restoration Day takes hold, perhaps it is best to confront vengeance in the workplace

One of the earliest documents about senior management techniques does not shy away from the role of vengeance. It was written in 1513. Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince offered pragmatic advice for rulers (admittedly, in a time preceding most HR departments). His thinking explicitly recommended getting your vengeance in before your opponents can.

Machiavelli suggested that if you suspect someone has got something against you, for whatever reason and whether justified or not, deal with it immediately. Don’t let a colleague get away with two-faced behaviour, where they agree with you to your face but undermine you behind your back. Be brave about calling it out. Machiavelli wrote: "Wars don’t just go away, they are only postponed to someone else’s advantage."

I have asked a number of business people if they have ever been motivated by revenge or fear of revenge. People say no; revenge is an ugly emotion. They acknowledge competitiveness – it’s great to want to win. They talk about fairness and a desire to see justice done.

But these traits are the fair face of revenge. It does no harm to acknowledge the dark side of the feelings at least to yourself so that you understand your deepest motivation and that of those around you.

And, remember, living well is the best revenge.

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom