The psychology of Schadenfreude in the workplace: Can I experience it with myself?

The psychology of Schadenfreude in the workplace

The Germans may have invented the word “Schadenfreude” but Americans sure wage battle with that feeling everyday. When someone falls ahead of us, we both want to help and laugh. We are at times riddled with guilt when we feel such conflicting emotions. I must say that, however, as far as comedies go, as a cultural group, we don’t care much for physical comedy. We leave that to the French. 



Just the other day, I walked straight into a metal pole and got bounced onto the ground.  I kept my senses about it and didn’t black out.  Immediately, a man rushed over to me to help me out. I was completely embarrassed of course and a bit dazed. Notably no one laughed at me. However, I can’t help but feel that somewhere there is a “blooper” reel being put together that has my incident on it. For that is how things roll these days.  Once I was at my work desk, I eventually did call my work health insurance urgent care line just to make sure I didn’t have a concussion. When I spoke with the nurse, she actually chuckled when I told her what happened. So much for sympathetic health care providers, eh? I actually laughed along with her. What else was I to do? It was stupid on my part. I was not focused and thus walked into a metal pole. In that call, it was almost as if I was engaged in a bit of Schadenfreude at myself. Is that possible?  Is that the same as trying to tickle oneself?




The next day, I had a business meeting with two individuals that I do not necessarily trust. There I said it. We are all starting to get to know one another and there are a lot of politics involved in our meeting. One was the head national honcho and the other was the local person who I know a little bit better. As we were talking, I was a typical New Yorker with very fast wit and slightly shady barbs. The head honcho did not get all my pointed jokes which allowed me and her subordinate to smile with one another and laugh at her a bit.  Nothing like a pointed joke to bring two people together. Then at one point, he said something that caused a bit of tension in the room and she went on to chastise him in front of me. That was a tad bit uncomfortable. 



As a supervisor, I believe that one never “chastises” one’s staff in front of other people.  There is no need to ever do that unless you are trying to … No, there is no excuse for that. I do not understand managers that do that. It is unseemly, tacky and in poor taste.  Such an act shows that the person may be power-hungry or trying to curry favor in a way that shows they are not trustworthy.  She asked me my thoughts on what he had just done and noted that she was just trying to provide him feedback in the moment.  The only times I have seen that done to any good effect is when you are trying to train a dog to not pee in the corner or not eat your shoe.  


I looked at her while she was scolding her staff and I saw a gleam of happiness in her face. She was relishing the role and the chastisement. I shook my head and disengaged from the conversation. For me, the meeting was psychologically done and I was ready to move onto my next meeting. I noted to them that I might have a possible concussion and needed to end the meeting. This phrase was just so random that they went along with it. At least now I have a great line to throw people off course.


Now back to my original question: can I experience Schadenfreude with myself?  It would seem to me that you cannot.  You can’t tickle yourself. You can’t Schadenfreude yourself necessarily. Although, there is certainly an element of masochism there. And considering that most workplaces these days entail a certain level of masochism… well, then…





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