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The Psychology of Abusive Supervision  

Katrina A. Graham, Gahyun Yoo, and Emma K. Kristal

Abusive supervision, defined as employees’ perceptions of leaders’ sustained hostile behaviors, has a wide range of negative outcomes for individuals and their workplaces. In understanding the psychology of abusive supervision, both employee perceptions and leader behaviors are relevant to employee reports of abuse, and various factors can lead to abusive supervision. Supervisors may enact hostile behaviors for a variety of reasons, including their past experiences, personality traits, employee characteristics and behaviors, and a failure of supervisors to self-regulate their behavior due to stressors in their environment. As a consequence of abusive supervision, employees often experience a number of negative effects, including adverse mental health outcomes. Additionally, due to the negative psychological effects of abusive supervision, employees are more likely to engage in destructive behaviors both at work and at home. However, these chains of events are not inevitable: There are various interventions that organizations and individuals can undertake to prevent the harmful outcomes of abusive supervision.


Abusive Supervision  

Ann Peng, Rebecca Mitchell, and John M. Schaubroeck

In recent years scholars of abusive supervision have expanded the scope of outcomes examined and have advanced new psychological and social processes to account for these and other outcomes. Besides the commonly used relational theories such as justice theory and social exchange theory, recent studies have more frequently drawn from theories about emotion to describe how abusive supervision influences the behavior, attitudes, and well-being of both the victims and the perpetrators. In addition, an increasing number of studies have examined the antecedents of abusive supervision. The studied antecedents include personality, behavioral, and situational characteristics of the supervisors and/or the subordinates. Studies have reported how characteristics of the supervisor and that of the focal victim interact to determining abuse frequency. Formerly postulated outcomes of abusive supervision (e.g., subordinate performance) have also been identified as antecedents of abusive supervision. This points to a need to model dynamic and mutually reciprocal processes between leader abusive behavior and follower responses with longitudinal data. Moreover, extending prior research that has exclusively focused on the victim’s perspective, scholars have started to take the supervisor’s perspective and the lens of third-parties, such as victims’ coworkers, to understand the broad impact of abusive supervision. Finally, a small number of studies have started to model abusive supervision as a multilevel phenomenon. These studies have examined a group aggregated measure of abusive supervision, examining its influence as an antecedent of individual level outcomes and as a moderator of relationships between individuals’ experiences of abusive supervision and personal outcomes. More research could be devoted to establishing the causal effects of abusive supervision and to developing organizational interventions to reduce abusive supervision.