People Who Push Too Hard: Lessons from Airline Employees, Prison Guards, and Workplace Vigilantes

University of Toronto

Professor DeCelles studies settings that are rife with friction, frustration, and fatigue. In this episode, Stanford Engineering’s Bob Sutton interviews the University of Toronto’s Katy DeCelles about how people deal with the constraints and stresses of prison and airports.  Employees in both settings are required to enforce strict rules, which can inflame the often distressed, manipulative, and overbearing people that they care for and oversee. DeCelles explains how prison guards and airline workers do their jobs in ways that protect their own physical and mental health, and at the same time, allow them to maintain order among the people they are paid to serve, protect, and control.  The strategies these employees use include a curious blend of empathy and emotional detachment. DeCelles also discusses her research on another kind of pushy workplace character, the “organizational vigilante”– those self-appointed enforcers who take it upon themselves to chastise you for violating some obscure policy or arriving to work five minutes late.