On the Causes and Consequences of Abusive Supervision
Liang, Lindie Hanyu
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Abusive supervision is a growing problem confronting organizations. In this dissertation, across two essays, I examine both the causes and the consequences of abusive supervision. In Essay 1, I answer the question when and why do supervisors abuse poor performing employees. Building on prior work showing that abusive supervision is a reaction to subordinates’ poor performance, I develop a self-control framework to outline when and why supervisors abuse poor performing subordinates. In particular, I argue poor performing subordinates instill in supervisors a sense of hostility towards the subordinate, which in turn leads to engaging in abusive supervision. Within this self-control framework, poor performance is more likely to lead to abusive supervision when (a) the magnitude of the hostility experienced is higher (e.g., for those with a hostile attribution bias), or (b) the translation of hostility into abusive supervision is unconstrained (e.g., for those who are low in trait mindfulness). In two experimental studies with full-time supervisors where we manipulated the independent variable (Study 1) and the mediator (Study 2), and in a multi-wave and multi-source field study with data collected from supervisor-subordinate teams (50 supervisors and 206 subordinates) at two time points (Study 3), I found overall support for our predictions. In Essay 2, I answer the question under what circumstances and why the detrimental effect of abusive supervision on subordinate well-being can be mitigated. When a subordinate receives abusive treatment from a supervisor, a natural response is to retaliate against the supervisor. Although the majority of the abusive supervision literature has suggested that retaliation is dysfunctional and should be discouraged, I offer an alternative narrative by suggesting that retaliation may have a beneficial purpose. Based on the notion that retaliation following mistreatment can restore justice for victims, I propose a functional theory of retaliation and predict that retaliation alleviates the effect of abusive supervision on subordinate well-being by virtue of restoring subordinate justice perceptions. In an experimental study using vignettes (Study 1), two additional experimental studies (Study 2A and 2B), and a field survey study with two independent samples (Study 3), I found general support for our predictions. Overall, the results of these two essays shed light on the phenomenon abusive supervision in terms of understanding its causes and consequences.