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Psychology Today: Vigilantes at work

17 Feb 2024
Employees who police their peers create a culture of fear and compliance.

Originally found at Psychology Today



  • Workplace vigilantes are bullies who surveil coworkers thoughts and ideas, creating a culture of fear.
  • They create fictitious worlds where they wear the crown, set the agenda, and enforce the unofficial rulebook.
  • Workplace vigilantes operate from a place of moral certainty, making them resistant to diverse ideas.

Workplace bullies present in diverse forms; some are overtly aggressive in their power grab, and others operate underground, constructing elaborate passageways to disperse gossip throughout the veins of the organization.

Regardless of their approach, most bullies possess a shaky sense of self. In an attempt at stabilization, many concoct fictitious worlds in which they wear the crown, set the agenda, and enforce the unofficial rulebook. Such power seige requires them to trade in authentic connections for partnerships based on fear. Within this role, they abandon the quest for deep and authentic work in exchange for time spent policing peers and forging a vigilante identity.

Who Are Workplace Vigilantes?

Decelles and Aquino (2020), in their Dark Knights: When an Employee Becomes a Workplace Vigilante, define the vigilante on the job "as an employee who has taken on the self-appointed role identity of being a monitor and punisher of coworkers' deviance." Unlike whistleblowers, who put their jobs on the line to call out unethical behavior to those in a position to enact change, vigilantes fight on behalf of themselves, eager to punch down in order to climb up (Near and Miceli, 1985). Vigilantes are from the "that's not how we do it around here cadre" enforcers of conformity.

Continue reading the original article at Psychology Today.

Read the original research in Academy of Management Review.

Read the Academy of Management Insights summary.

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