If someone in the workplace is mistreated, their colleagues may respond with empathy — or with schadenfreude. The latter emotion, according to a new study by the University of Zurich, occurs primarily in highly competitive working environments, when one person’s misfortune facilitates another’s goals. Even worse, schadenfreude can be contagious. For this reason, it is worth establishing an inclusive working climate and team-based incentives.
Most employees have heard of or witnessed a colleague being mistreated, talked over, or bullied. To date, most research on this subject argues that observers feel empathy toward victims and anger toward perpetrators. However, Jamie Gloor, business economist at UZH, believes that this view oversimplifies the complex nature of social dynamics. Together with colleagues from Shanghai Jiao Tong University and the National University of Singapore, she devoted her latest publication to the emergence, development, and behavioral consequences of schadenfreude — an emotion long discussed by philosophers as early as Aristotle but which modern organizational research has largely overlooked.