Sometimes, no matter how much we think we have grown, the workplace can turn into high school with its high drama, pettiness, and narrow view of the world. More than 4 in 10 (44%) of 1,000 people surveyed in a new study admit they have sought workplace revenge.

That number may seem high, but the definition of revenge includes a lot of different scenarios. At the top of the list is "causing a purposeful decline in the quality or quantity of your work." That's revenge, in a sense, but it's not exactly leaving a severed horse head in a co-worker's bed. Other more spiteful types of revenge include "spreading unflattering rumors," "quitting in an unconventional way," and "hiding a co-workers possession[s]" rounding out the top four methods of "revenge" given.

Still, while some of the items above and others on the list, including "eat a co-worker's lunch" seem more childish than terrible, the much more detrimental "get a co-worker fired" was the fifth-most-popular method of revenge. "Delete work from a co-worker's computer was also named as a method of revenge as was "sabotage a co-worker's work."

A chart of reasons people take revenge.

Image source: 

Don't do this

It should go without saying that seeking revenge in the workplace, even a toxic office, is a terrible idea. While doing something that harms a co-worker may bring short-term satisfaction, it's petty and in some cases named above, even criminal. Many of the methods used will actually harm your career and some might land you in big trouble.

In all cases, when you have a work problem, it's best to handle it professionally. Bring it up to your boss or to human resources. That may not be as satisfying as eating a co-worker's lunch, but it's the right move for your career.

A man and a woman working at laptops cast sideways glances at each other.

Don't let a workplace situation get out of hand. Image source: Getty Images.

Who is committing workplace revenge?

While more than half of workers can resist the urge to take revenge on a co-worker, that does not mean someone won't try to take it on them. That can be a challenging problem to deal with because the survey showed that only 36% of entry-level workers have sought workplace revenge while 45% of senior managers and 38% of general managers have.

"This makes sense when looking at revenge as a power play," wrote the study's author. "Positions with more power may have less fear of losing their job."

In addition, higher-level employees have more power to openly seek revenge against lower-level workers. Because of their lofty positions, managers can mess with lower-level workers in ways that may be hard to spot. For example, a boss can give out unpleasant work assignments, deny overtime, or assign subordinates to unpleasant shifts out of spite or as a measure of workplace revenge.

What should you do?

First, always try to be honest and above board when dealing with co-workers. Don't give anyone a reason to seek revenge or want to see bad things happen to you. If something happens that may put you at odds with a co-worker, or even worse a boss, be proactive and take steps to talk it out.

Of course, just like in high school, it's possible to get targeted when you actually did nothing wrong. When that happens, it's important to discuss the situation. Go to human resources or your boss (assuming that's not the perpetrator) and let them know what is happening.

That won't always solve the problem if a person at the top has it out for you. Still, it's the best chance you have to rectify the situation without seeing it get further out of hand.