Abusive supervision and job outcomes: a moderated mediation study

Publication Date06 Aug 2018
AuthorSajeet Pradhan,Lalatendu Kesari Jena
SubjectHR & organizational behaviour,Global HRM
Abusive supervision and
job outcomes: a moderated
mediation study
Sajeet Pradhan
Department of Organisational Behavior, International Management Institute,
New Delhi, India, and
Lalatendu Kesari Jena
School of Human Resource Management, Xavier Institute of Management,
Xavier University, Bhubaneswar, India
Purpose Based on the conservation of resources theory, the purpose of this paper is to investigate the
linkage between abusive supervision (a workplace stressor) and subordinates intention to quit by focusing on
the mediating role of emotional exhaustion. The study also explores the conditional mediation model by
testing the moderational role of perceived coworker support on the mediated abusive supervision-intention to
quit relationship via emotional exhaustion.
Design/methodology/approach To test the proposed hypotheses, the study draws data from 382
healthcare employees working in several hospitals and clinics in the eastern and north-eastern states of India.
The authors collected data on the predictor and criterion variables at two time points with a separation of
three to four weeks in a reversed order to counter priming effect.
Findings The findings of the study reported that emotional exhaustion partially mediated the abusive
supervision-intention to quit relationship. The result also supported the assertion that perceived coworker
support will moderate the relationship between abusive supervision and subordinates intention to quit.
The authors also found support to the moderated mediation hypothesis, that suggest perceived
coworker support will reduce the mediating effect of abusive supervision-intention to quit relationship via
emotional exhaustion.
Originality/value This study is among few empirical investigations to investigate and report the
interactional effect of perceived coworker support (a buffer) on the indirect relationship between abusive
supervision and subordinates intention to quit via emotional exhaustion.
Keywords Abusive supervision, Intention to quit, Emotional exhaustion, Coworker support
Paper type Research paper
In the past, the majority of research on workplace leadership has focused on positive and
constructiveforms of leadership, thereby, ignoringthe dark and destructive side of leadership
(Aryee et al., 2007; Kelloway et al., 2006). Accordingto Kellerman (2004), there has longbeen a
partiality to the positive aspects in traditional study on leaders and leadership, while this
partiality cantrick us into perceiving the essenceof leadership. Only with study fromvarious
aspects can we get an all-around insight of this field. One way to increase the probability of
good leadership is to encourage as many people as possible to study, teach and practice it.
But another way is to encourage the exploration into bad leadership.Although once
considered a low baserate phenomenon, scholars claimthat there has been a steady increase
in supervisory or managerial transgressions in recent years.
This suggests a closer look at the destructive side of leadership, as understanding and
preventingthe dark side of leadership is just as important as understanding and enhancingthe
positive aspects of leadership. Over the lastfew decades, there is a conspicuous rise of studies
on deviant, toxic and counterproductive work behavior Robonson and Bennett (1995) or what
Griffin and OLeary-Kelly (2004) referred as the dark side of organizational behavior.
Although, most of these studies involve rank and file employees (Tepper et al., 2006),
Evidence-based HRM: a Global
Forum for Empirical Scholarship
Vol. 6 No. 2, 2018
pp. 137-152
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/EBHRM-06-2017-0030
Received 7 June 2017
Revised 15 September 2017
Accepted 1 October 2017
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
and job
few studies have also emphasized the darker side of those in managerial, supervisory or in
leadershipposition (Tepper et al., 2001). Abusive supervision is one such negative managerial
construct which refers to a supervisors prolonged hostile and dysfunctional behavior toward
their subordinates. The abusive behaviors which restrict to non-physical verbal and
non-verbal behaviors include, intimidating the subordinate, withholding promotion, using
aggressive body language, taking undue credit, public humiliation, intentionally giving
risky or very difficult task and meting out silent tre atment to the subordinate (Keashly, 1998;
Tepper, 2000; Tepper et al., 2006).
Schat et al. (2006)reported a survey of US workforce claiming that morethan 13.6 percent
of employees have either witnessed abusive supervision at work, or have reported direct
experienceof the ill-treatment from theirimmediate supervisor. Anotherstudy has claimed an
annual loss of approximately $23.8 billion by US organizations because of this supervisory
menace (Tepper et al., 2006). Previous studies confirm that these hostile and abusive
supervisory behaviors have several adverse effects on an employees job behavior and
performance like decreased job satisfaction, reduced organizational commitment, limited
display of organizational citizenship behavior and reduced job engagement (Tepper, 2000;
Zhang et al., 2011). Some of the other c onsequences repor ted in earlier stu dies include
heightened sense of helplessness, increase in employees role conflict, workplace deviance
and higher turnover intention (Ashforth, 1997; Tepper, 2000; Martinko et al.,2013).
The present study makes four important contributions to the extant literature. First, the
current study explores the relationship between abusive supervision and subordinates
intention to quit in Indian healthcare organizations. One of the many detrimental outcomes
of abusive supervision is subordinatesintention to quit the organization, which cost
organizations dearly (Waldman et al., 2004). Several authors have emphasized the
importance of intention to quit as it precedes the actual quitting and is commonly linked
with the individuals withdrawal cognitions such as thoughts of quitting and search for
alternative employment opportunities, which can be changed if intervened on time.
In addition, many scholars have also reported a significant association between turnover
intention and actual turnover (Cotton and Tuttle, 1986) and estimated that cost of turnover
to be as much as 5 percent of an organizations operating budget (Hinkin and Tracey, 2000).
In this study, we conceptualize abusive supervision as an interpersonal stressor that may
profoundly affect the subordinates professional as well as personal life. Several scholars
have previously treated abusive supervision and other forms of workplace mistreatment as
potential source of stress, which might have deleterious effect on the victims health, well-
being and performance (Keashly et al., 1997; Tepper, 2000). Earlier studies further indicate
that the impact of abusive supervision on the subordinate is so significant that it leads to a
significant loss of critical resources, which are dear to the subordinate. Hence, we invoke
conservation of resources (COR) theory of stress by Hobfoll (1989) to explain the process
by which abusive supervision (an interpersonal stressor) will influence the subordinates
turnover intention.
Second, the study also attempts to investigate the mediating role of emotional exhaustion
in explaining the abusive supervision and subordinates intention to quit relationship.
According to Maslach et al. (2001, p. 403), Emotional exhaustion is not something that is
simply experienced rather, it prompts actions to distance oneself emotionally and
cognitively from ones work.Similar thoughts have been shared by Cropanzano et al. (2003)
reporting that emotionally exhausted employees are more likely to quit their organization
than their less exhausted counterparts. Thus, we propose to investigate the mediating effect
of employees emotional exhaustion on abusive supervision-intention to quit relationship.
Third, the current study will explore the moderating effect of perceived coworker support
on abusive supervision and emotional exhaustion linkage. Tepper (2007) in his study
has posited that subordinates who perceive their supervisor to be abusive, experience

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