Psychology and Relationships

Are you the 'Dwight' of your office? 3 signs you may be overstepping at work

Rainn Wilson as Dwight Schrute in NBC's The Office -- Photo by: Justin Lubin/NBCU Photo Bank
Justin Lubin  | NBCU

Do you notice what time your co-workers arrive at the office? Or how long they've been away at lunch?

Have you met with your boss to discuss a colleague who appears to receive unfair treatment? 

While you might think this behavior is helpful and responsible, it's likely your co-workers and even your boss don't agree.

In fact, they probably think of you as a "workplace vigilante," a title that might not help your reputation in the office. 

Katy DeCelles is an organizational behavior professor at the University of Toronto. In 2017 she co-authored a paper entitled "Vigilantes at Work: Examining the Frequency of Dark Knight Employees."

"Vigilantes tend to be people who believe themselves to be more moral than the average person," she says. "And most people think that, but it's much stronger and more rigid [in a workplace vigilante]."

The mindset can backfire, she says. Co-workers see you as a nuisance and management sees you as a tattle tale who creates more work for them. 

"I think over time people get to realize that this is generally something that is going on in that person rather than something going on with the accused," she says.

"Eventually you get to figure out who the 'Dwight' is and kind of discount their claims." 

3 signs you might be overstepping at work

1. You are very concerned with what other people are doing 

If you're a workplace vigilante, you might be regularly checking in on a co-worker's progress, or be extra attuned to how much time they are spending in and out of the office.  

"Hypervigilance, monitoring other people and expecting people to do things wrong or in a way you perceive to be unethical" are all signs you are the workplace vigilante, DeCelles says. 

You're also noticing if there are consequences to what you perceive as inadequacies in your colleagues.

"It starts out very psychological," DeCelles says. "You're noticing again and again there are failures to enact justice at work. People are getting away with things that annoy you."

Eventually you get to figure out who the "Dwight" is and kind of discount their claims.
Katy DeCelles
Professor at the University of Toronto

2. You get angry when a co-worker breaks a 'rule'

Not only are you noticing what your co-workers are doing, it's affecting your mood. 

"A lot of people will say, 'Sometimes people are late and some people are late more often than others, but if management isn't going to get upset about it, I won't,'" she says. "But a vigilante might see that as something that is more and more frustrating and angering to them." 

3. You take it upon yourself to reprimand a co-worker

Because you feel like they are not being disciplined properly, you do so yourself. 

"Typically a vigilante is defined by their punishment behavior," DeCelles says. 

This doesn't always mean going to HR. It could also be, for example, talking about their tardiness to other colleagues or even approaching them about a recent act you perceived as incorrect. 

Take a step back and focus on your own tasks

If you recognize yourself in any of these steps, try taking a step back and focusing on your own tasks.

You could also re-direct some of that energy to problems your peers would actually appreciate having solved, DeCelles says.

"Is there something that could really use a vigilant monitor in the office?" she says. "For instance, if someone keeps taking your lunch or leaving the bathroom in a mess."

Use your supreme observational skills to make lives more, not less, enjoyable.

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