Inconsistent transformational leadership at the organizational and individual levels has received particular attention in academia. The relationship between transformational leadership and destructive forms of leadership is still under-researched (Eisele, 2020). Leaders tend to alternate between leadership styles, which can have diverse effects on employees’ job performance, satisfaction, psychological well-being, creativity, and commitment (Mullen et al., 2018). Transformational leadership contributes to enhancing safety participation and the positive influence of this working environment can be hindered when abusive supervision occurs. When leaders alternate between transformational leadership and abusive supervision, employees feel more stressed and less productive (Barling et al., 2018). Due to the resulting damage to employees’ psychological well-being, their behavior can change and become counterproductive, leading to adverse effects on the workplace atmosphere. According to Mullen et al. (2018), the possible changes in employees’ behavior can encourage leaders to develop successful leader-member relationships to minimize abusive supervision. Enhanced leader-member exchange mitigates the adverse consequences of abusive behaviors, makes leaders more empathetic, and improves leaders’ emotional intelligence and corresponding competencies (Xiong et al., 2021).
Inconsistent transformational leadership can also change employees’ engagement and daily performance (Huang et al., 2019). For instance, personnel performance can be high one day and disengaged another day, depending on the leadership style. Sustained abusive leadership results in low morale, disengagement from current tasks, and low performance. Huang et al. (2019) stated that researchers might need to explore the relationship between abusive supervision and employee performance in day-to-day contexts to identify the exact mechanisms involved in the process.
Transformational leadership can have no mediating effect on employee performance if abusive supervision prevails and the former leadership style is only occasionally utilized (Barling et al., 2018). Leaders often switch to different forms of leadership according to the availability of resources. Barling et al. (2018) found that the presence of scarce resources could drive autocratic leadership. In contrast, abusive supervision had milder negative consequences compared to those resulting from the use of transformational leadership in similar circumstances (Barling et al., 2018). Barling et al. (2018) conducted a research in the healthcare setting, with certain limitations that led to the need to address the topic in a broader context. For instance, most organizations in the healthcare setting are primarily not commercial, meaning they have different goals, which can cause other leadership behavior.
The abusive behavior of ethical leaders can have adverse effects that make subordinates more sensitive to abusive supervision (Taylor et al., 2019). Prior research on ethical leadership focused on interactional justice that had a moderating impact on the relationship between abusive supervision and work outcomes (Wang & Chan, 2020). Interactional justice is associated with people’s perceptions of the degree to which they are treated with respect and dignity in different contexts (Wang & Chan, 2020). When employees feel mistreated, their psychological well-being is negatively affected, resulting in sensitivity to abusive supervision and workplace deviance (Javed et al., 2018). Employees may become victims of offensive leaders or react in an increasingly intense manner. Inconsistent leadership tends to increase people’s need for interactional justice, and if abusive supervision frequency or magnitude grows, adverse workplace outcomes intensify (Park et al., 2019).
Individual characteristics and skills also play a significant role in employee performance. For example, employees with high levels of mindfulness perform better when transformational leadership is utilized (Qian et al., 2020). Employees’ mindfulness enables them to be fully aware of their capabilities and areas needing certain development. Mindful employees also understand the efforts the transformational leader makes to help them individually and the entire team to progress, which contributes to the development of the sense of belongingness (Qian et al., 2020).
Employees highly affected by abusive supervision experience detrimental effects on their psychological well-being and performance (Walsh & Arnold, 2020). Employee mindfulness can result in poor performance, job dissatisfaction, or total work engagement depending on daily leadership style if inconsistent leadership is utilized (Qian et al., 2020). Employees characterized by high mindfulness are also aware of the unfairness of situations and activities, as well as the overall incivility of the leader, and mindful individuals tend to reflect on negative experiences, which results in their low morale (Qian et al., 2020). These findings are consistent with previous studies, and researchers have been more attentive to inconsistent leadership and its outcomes as a result.
For instance, Zhang and Liu (2018) examined the positive and adverse influences of abusive and transformational leadership in different cultural contexts. The researchers found that abusive behavior could positively impact employees’ performance in Asian countries due to their cultural peculiarities. However, inconsistent leadership was associated with poor performance and low morale. Zhang and Liu (2018) concluded that using consistent (be it transformational or abusive leadership) leadership is beneficial for organizational performance.
Taylor et al. (2019) stated that abusive behaviors of ethical leaders had a stronger negative impact on employees compared to the incivility of abusive leaders. One of the reasons behind this adverse influence is the unmet expectations as ethical leaders are regarded as transformational leaders who do not utilize autocratic methods (Taylor et al., 2019). When transformational and ethical leaders’ actions in some situations are inconsistent with their overall behaviors and image, employees feel even more vulnerable when exposed to abusive acts. In the case of abusive leaders, employees expect a certain degree of incivility and tend to build the corresponding resilience or some behavioral patterns mitigating the negative effects of this kind of abuse. Walsh and Arnold (2020) suggested that employees need extensive training ineffective coping strategies to ensure that their mindfulness does not enhance negative responses to abusive leadership and facilitate a favorable working environment.
Lange et al. (2018) found a positive relationship between leaders’ mindfulness and transformational leadership, while a negative relationship characterized leaders’ mindfulness and abusive supervision. Importantly, mindful leaders exert transformational leadership when addressing innovation-related incentives and individuals’ ideas or performances rather than team-based elements (Lange et al., 2018). This trend toward individualism is linked to the resource-based approach, as mindfulness is mainly related to personal links and interpersonal relationships. Braun et al. (2018) examined the effects of the use of inconsistent leadership style on employees’ performance and stated that the personnel had particular perceptions and expectations regarding their leader’s leadership style. When these expectations were not met, employees tended to underperform, display low morale, and the turnover rates increased. The researchers brought a valuable point to the fore as they found that female leaders were prone to inconsistent leadership and unmet expectations, which affected their relationships with other team members. Braun et al. (2018) also added that although researchers explored some aspects of inconsistent leadership, the connection between transformational leadership and abusive behavior and the impact these leadership styles have on employees’ performance requires further investigation.
It is critical to define workplace abuse to explore its effects on employee performance. The U. S. government introduced terminology in order to address workplace abuse issues and ensure employees’ safety. According to the United States Department of Labor (2020), workplace violence is an act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the worksite. Workplace violence is widespread but underreported, and it can often be challenging to address.
For example, according to the U. S. Department of Labor (2020), out of 5,147 cases of fatal injuries at the workplace, 458 cases were intentionally caused by another person. Indeed, workplace violence is the third cause of fatal occupational injuries in the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC; 2020) reported that catastrophic damage caused by occupational violence is prevalent among employees engaged in sectors such as transportation, sales, and protective services. Workplace violence is also closely linked to increased absenteeism among healthcare employees. The American government has enacted a wide range of preventive measures and legislation addressing workplace violence (United States Government, 2021); these regulations are primarily related to harassment and severe forms of workplace abuse.
Abusive supervision can be seen as a type of occupational violence mainly manifested in less severe forms but still adversely affects employee performance and well-being. Notably, abusive supervision is associated with a vital subjective component, which is defined as subordinate’s perception “of the degree to which their superiors engage in the continuous delivery of threatening verbal sentences and nonverbal actions, without physical touch” (Hussain et al., 2020). The bulk of existing research is devoted to examining how managers perceive abusive supervision and the effects of these behavioral patterns on managers’ conduct and performance (Ambrose & Ganegoda, 2020). The overall impact of these attitudes on organizational outcomes and employees’ conduct and well-being is negative.
Although definitions exist for workplace abuse, Park et al. (2020) paid specific attention to the ways people in particular settings perceive the problem of abusive supervision. The scholars widely explore the effects of abusive supervision on employees’ performance and the workplace environment (Park et al., 2020). The researchers have also explored mitigating factors that help people address the adverse outcomes of abusive supervision (Park et al., 2020). For example, Tariq and Ding (2018) claimed that family is an important aspect that significantly influences people’s decision to continue working in abusive environments. Family motivation can also contribute to developing resilience, which is beneficial for employees’ performance in a strained atmosphere. Another mitigating factor is mindfulness, associated with resilience development and creativity enhancement (Shen et al., 2020b). Other areas such as the reasons for occupational abuse and ways to address its outcomes have also been investigated in academia.
Causes of Workplace Abuse
Qin et al. (2019) identified and examined in detail numerous causes of occupational abuse. The personal traits of a supervisor and subordinates that shape their interpersonal relationships develop are influential factors (Qin et al., 2019). Tariq et al. (2019) also found that supervisors may abuse high performers due to jealousy. Managers may be envious of their subordinates’ achievements or skills and characteristics, driving abusive conduct. Khan et al. (2018) found that abusive supervision occurs when the social dominance is high. If the supervisor feels their authority is threatened, they may utilize abusive supervision methods. Abusive supervision also leads to further abusive behaviors in the workplace, with supervisors’ abuse causing subordinates to display similar behavioral patterns in relationships with their peers (Ramdeo & Singh, 2019). Everything mentioned above and the corresponding conflicts in the working environment could later result in abusive supervision.
Leaders’ traits also contribute to abusive supervision in organizations. A leader’s creative mindset is linked to abusive supervision through moral disengagement, meaning that the leader is convinced that ethical standards are not applicable in a particular context (Qin et al., 2019). Supervisors use all possible means to achieve their vision, irrespective of their followers’ needs, characteristics, and performances. Furthermore, leaders high in moral disengagement tend to have a low capacity to self-regulate, resulting in abusive behavior. Qin et al. (2019) paid specific attention to day-to-day fluctuations in leaders’ supervision and employees’ performance. They found a direct link between the mentioned variables and within-person factors, as opposed to links between interpersonal aspects. For instance, the quality of sleep and the perception of work-family balance plays a more significant role for both leaders and employees in choosing a behavioral pattern than specific work processes or relationships (Qin et al., 2019).
De Hoogh et al. (2021) analyzed leaders’ Machiavellianism and its effects on employees’ retention. The authors stressed that leaders exhibiting Machiavellianism (Mach leaders) used abusive methods, which often had a negative influence on employees’ and overall organizational performance. At the same time, De Hoogh et al. (2021) also detected a direct link between the manifestation of Machiavellianism and organizational culture. The researchers reported that Mach leaders utilized abusive methods more seldom if the organizational culture was characterized by established norms and rules (De Hoogh et al., 2021). Moreover, organizational culture mitigated the adverse effects of abusive leadership as employees felt a lower degree of emotional exhaustion if the working climate was favorable and organizational culture was strong.
Personal characteristics such as extraversion, openness to experience, conscientiousness, and neuroticism are associated with abusive supervision (Tahira et al., 2019). Conscientiousness and neuroticism have been long associated with abusive behaviors and people are often inflexible and prone to negative emotions. Tahira et al. (2019) identified the relationship between leaders’ extraversion and abusive supervision. They noted that extroverted people feel freer when articulating their ideas and expressing their emotions, and this confidence tends to lead to abusive leadership. Diverse factors such as organizational culture, cultural peculiarities, and employees’ perceptions and individual traits, can mitigate leaders’ abusive behaviors.
Leaders’ attachment orientation is another influential factor affecting their leadership style. Attachment theory has been widely used in studies examining leadership and people’s occupational behaviors (Robertson et al., 2018). Attachment theory is instrumental in the exploration of the influence of the relationships between infants and their caregivers on the cognitive and social models the former develops and employs during adulthood. In terms of occupational behavior, people with an anxious attachment orientation, which is associated with low self-esteem and fear of being rejected or abandoned, are more likely to display abusive supervision.
By contrast, close dependent attachment orientation negatively affects abusive leadership (Robertson et al., 2018). Supervisors that are high in the close dependent attachment (meaning that people depend on others and expect them to feel the same way back) tend to think they can cultivate effective relationships and therefore do not engage in abusive behaviors. Social self-efficacy is a potent mediator affecting the use of leadership styles in both cases. Therefore, the training aimed at developing social skills and increasing leaders’ confidence in their ability to build successful relationships can be a successful strategy for minimizing abusive leadership.
In addition to personal characteristics, leaders’ beliefs regarding abusive supervision outcomes are also instrumental in using abusive leadership. Leaders who believe that abusive leadership is appropriate and results in better performance tend to display abusive behaviors (Watkins et al., 2017). Supervisors’ empathic concern plays a moderating role in the relationship between abusive behavior and adverse workplace outcomes. Leaders with little empathic concern may use abusive supervision irrespective of employees’ previous performance. High achievers can also become victims of negative leadership due to leaders’ beliefs regarding the effectiveness of abusive supervision and its favorable impact on performance (Watkins et al., 2017). Depending on how a leader exhibits empathic concerns, the leader uses abusive supervision to achieve organizational goals. Therefore, leaders with deep empathic concern are less likely to use abusive behavior in the workplace.
Employees’ traits are linked to workplace abuse in various ways. Worldviews, attitudes toward authority, and individual performance can predict victimization by abusive leaders (Khan et al., 2017). Khan et al. (2017) utilized the dual-process model to investigate the role of employees’ perspectives in the relationship between abusive supervision and performance. The model focuses on competitive and dangerous worldviews. In the former view, people attempt to achieve dominance in a group because of assumptions regarding competitiveness and the importance of authority. In the latter view, people see the world as a dangerous environment and seek enhanced social cohesion and collective security. These perspectives affect employees’ attitudes and responses to abusive supervision (Khan et al., 2017). People who have a dangerous worldview are more likely to be submissive and obedient under autocratic and abusive leadership. People with a competitive worldview are more likely to resist abusive leadership. Higher submission to authority is associated with poor performance and deviant behaviors in the presence of abusive supervision. Such employees tend to be victimized due to their poor performance and behavior.
Employees’ neuroticism and introversion are strong predictors of sensitivity to abusive supervision (Nielsen et al., 2017). Neurotic or introverted employees are more likely to engage in workplace deviation and to have low performance. Extraversion, agreeableness, and openness to new experiences negatively affect abusive leadership, although these traits have a less significant influence on people’s responses to abusive supervision. However, people who are extraverted, agreeable, and open are vulnerable to victimization, and a vicious circle, therefore, emerges as they are prone to stronger reactions that lead to further abuse. Nielsen et al.’s (2017) study of the relationship between individual employee traits and abusive supervision demonstrated that methodology affected the results as the variables (openness, extraversion, and the rest) were conceptualized and measured differently. Hence, further research on the relationship between individual employee traits and abusive supervision is needed.
Machiavellianism is another characteristic of employees that are associated with abusive leadership. Under abusive supervision, employees’ Machiavellianism is activated, and people engage in unethical behavior due to leaders’ abusive conduct (Greenbaum et al., 2017). Researched dimensions of Machiavellianism include a desire for control, distrust of others, amoral manipulation, and a passion for status. The primary predictors of a counterproductive workplace and unethical behavior are a desire for control and amoral manipulation (Greenbaum et al., 2017). Hence, abusive activate, negative traits in employees and deteriorates their commitment and performance, leading to diverse adverse effects that include, but are not confined to, an inappropriate workplace environment.
Employees’ psychological capital is another feature that can enhance the negative relationship between abusive supervision and employee productivity (Raza et al., 2019). Psychological capital consists of traits such as self-efficacy, optimism, resilience, and hope. Employees with solid psychological capital are less affected by leaders’ abusive behaviors and remain high performers. Companies can accumulate psychological capital by developing employee culture and enhancing proactive relationships between the leader and subordinates, and social exchange among employees.
Employees’ attitudes and expectations regarding the working environment are also influential factors affecting response to abusive leadership (Matos et al., 2018). The researchers noted that in organizations with masculinity contest cultures, many employees were engaged and motivated. Matos et al. (2018) defined the masculinity contest culture as the workplace with high work-life conflict and high stress, as well as increased intention to leave. Matos et al. (2018) claimed that male employees who viewed their working place as a masculinity contest tended to have a more positive attitude towards toxic leadership compared to the rest of the employees (especially females). These employees displayed a higher level of work engagement and motivation as well. Matos et al. (2018) concluded that such attitudes could serve as an explanation of the reasons for high retention and appropriate performance in companies with abusive leaders.
Jha (2019) identified another mediator in the relationship between abusive leadership and employee retention. The author stated that psychological empowerment could play a mediating role and affect employees’ perception of safety and intention to leave. Jha (2019) emphasized that the link between psychological empowerment and employee retention became weaker if high abusive leadership was present. The researcher concluded that toxic leadership had a negative impact on employees’ performance. Nevertheless, even if, in some cases, employees displaying psychological empowerment could perform better in toxic cultures, they would leave the organization as soon as possible. Hence, Jha (2019) stressed that more research on the relationship between abusive leadership and employees’ psychological empowerment was needed to develop effective strategies aimed at improving organizational performance.
Lopez et al. (2020) also explored psychological mediators that could mitigate the negative effects of abusive leadership. The scholars analyzed the behaviors and attitudes of athletes exposed to abusive leadership. Lopez et al. (2020) reported that the athletes with higher levels of core self-evaluations were less receptive to toxic leadership and performed better than their peers with a lower level of core self-evaluations. The researchers also found that females had lower levels of core self-evaluation than male athletes, which had a considerable effect on their performance under abusive supervision. These findings are consistent with the studies by Jha (2019) and Matos et al. (2018) that can serve as an illustration of the gender difference in employees’ perceptions of a working climate and abusive leadership.
Organizational culture also has a direct and indirect impact on the occurrence of abusive supervision. Companies with weak corporate cultures are often characterized by counterproductive work behavior (CWB) norms, which are factors contributing to the use of abusive leadership (Ju et al., 2019). Weak corporate culture is associated with weak organizational values that are not accepted by all employees. Employees’ behavior plays a considerable role in forming CWB as its norms alone do not always result in CWB. Leaders’ traits and workload, work-related stress, and personal control intertwine with CWB norms to result in abusive supervision. Companies with autocratic leadership tend to illustrate this phenomenon as they are associated with relatively strong CWB norms. An effective means of diminishing the adverse outcomes of abusive leadership and minimizing its occurrence is to train managers in understanding the detrimental effects of abusive supervision and methods for avoiding undesirable behaviors (Ju et al., 2019). Establishing an ethical organizational culture without CWB norms is another approach to making abusive supervision impossible in the workplace.
Leadership and Abuse
Peltokorpi (2018) found that some leadership styles were more associated with occupational abuse than others. For example, transactional leaders are often characterized by the utilization of abusive supervision methods that lead to employee disengagement and deviant behaviors (Peltokorpi, 2018). Autocratic leadership styles are associated with the prevalence of abusive supervision and are often apparent in masculine cultures (Zhang et al., 2019). On the contrary, Al-Hawari et al. (2019) noted that supportive behaviors and transformational leadership styles are mitigating factors that help employees cope with workplace abuse and customer incivility. Supervisors are therefore encouraged to employ transformational leadership techniques in various settings.
Horizontal and Vertical Abuse
Occupational abuse can be manifested on different levels, including the personal and organizational levels. Abuse can also be vertical or horizontal, depending on the roles performed by the victim and the abuser within the organization. Vertical abuse is the most common as people in a dominant position tend to exercise their dominance by abusing their subordinates (Tariq et al., 2019). Supervisors have specific power over their subordinates that may vary across organizations depending on a hierarchical structure. Vertical occupational abuse is common in highly hierarchical companies. Horizontal abuse also occurs and is often related to subordinates’ responses to supervisors’ abusive behaviors. In horizontally abusive situations, employees may become disengaged or somewhat harsh towards their peers (Ramdeo & Singh, 2019). More serious negative issues characterize this kind of horizontal abuse as it can lead to misconduct, absenteeism, and other types of inappropriate behavior.
Consequences of Abuse
Abusive supervision tends to have multiple effects on employees, working climate, and the overall performance of the department or entire company (Akram et al., 2019). The primary focus of scholars has been on employees’ performance, but Akram et al. (2019) also explored other domains. For example, they examined physical and mental health issues in detail as employees’ health is one of the most influential factors affecting their productivity (Akram et al., 2019). In addition, employees’ motivation and job satisfaction are common topics (Tian et al., 2020; Sannes et al., 2021). Finally, abusive leadership is strongly associated with employees’ political behavior in organizations. Individuals with a high level of Machiavellianism have higher organizational, political perceptions than individuals with low Machiavellianism (Greenbaum et al., 2017). However, abusive leadership has a substantial negative impact on political dynamics in organizations, which needs to be considered to develop and maintain an organizational culture. In addition, economic and legal outcomes are associated with abusive supervision that has diverse effects on the organization’s development (Tian et al., 2020). It is necessary to consider these areas in more detail as each factor can lead to particular results.
According to the CDC (2020), occupational violence can lead to diverse psychological issues, physical injury, and death. Notably, abusive supervision is only one of the manifestations of workplace violence, but it contributes considerably to the development of situations that can lead to trauma or even death. Fischer et al. (2021) noted a lack of statistical data on the exact link between injury and abusive supervision. However, the relationship between mental health and abusive supervision exposure has been analyzed in detail.
Employees experiencing abusive supervision tend to display paranoia, making them vulnerable to the development of sinister attribution error, which is a cognitive error involving erroneous perceptions of workplace events (Lopes et al., 2018). An illustration of this psychological state is when an employee misattributes an ordinary workplace situation (peers laughing or discussing something) to negative motives an attempt to mock or harm them in some way. Employees affected by sinister attribution errors are more likely to engage in deviant behaviors. In some cases, abusive supervision can lead to suicidal ideation in employees (Liu et al., 2020). Liu et al. (2020) also found that confidence in the meaning of life mitigated the adverse effects of abusive leadership. Satisfaction of people’s psychological needs is linked to the degree of suicidal ideation in employees.
Mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety are common for people experiencing abusive supervision. Sannes et al. (2021) stated that women were more vulnerable to developing these mental health illnesses than men. Sannes et al. (2021) also found that women’s genotypes are an influential factor affecting their response to occupational abuse. The researchers stated that the GRHR1 TAT/TAT genotype in females enhances the risk of developing anxiety caused by supervision abuse (Sannes et al., 2021). Zhou et al. (2020) also found that women are at a higher risk of abusing alcohol when experiencing abusive supervision for an extended period. Alcohol abuse is associated with severe mental and physical health outcomes, including but not limited to, the development of addiction, depression, and cardiovascular issues.
Emotional exhaustion is another health outcome of abusive supervision. Subordinates facing workplace abuse feel depleted of their emotional resources, affecting their physical health (Akram et al., 2019). Psychological distress is also a common issue for employees exposed to abusive supervision. Saleem et al. (2018) explored the consequences of workplace abuse among law enforcement professionals. They found a direct link between abusive supervision and employees’ psychological distress, associated with other issues, including depression, anxiety, and even more severe illnesses.
Another effect related to the emotional state of employees caused by abusive supervision is workplace ostracism. This phenomenon implies that individuals develop defense mechanisms that make them less emotionally receptive (He et al., 2021). Although defense mechanisms are instrumental in addressing abusive behaviors and pressure, this emotional state prevents employees from fully engaged, committed, and creative. Ostracism also has detrimental effects on mental health because it can lead to job dissatisfaction and, as a result, depression.
Most studies provide insights into the psychological state of employees and supervisors, physical reactions have also been explored. Research examining the link between physical state and abusive supervision is relatively scarce, certain valuable findings have been forwarded. For example, Liang et al. (2018) stressed that physical conditions, including headaches, stomach pain, and sleep disturbances, are directly linked to workplace abuse and lead to losses for the employer as people require healthcare services (Liang et al., 2018). In addition, Mullen et al. (2018) claimed that physical health could be threatened as employees exposed to supervisor incivility tended to pay less attention to workplace safety, resulting in an increased incidence of injury. Peltokorpi and Ramaswami (2019) also found a direct positive relationship between abusive supervision and physical health concerns, with people facing supervisors’ abuse reporting increased fatigue, digestive system issues, sleep disturbances, enhanced headaches, and other issues.
Abusive supervision costs may reach up to $24 billion annually due to productivity losses, healthcare costs, and absenteeism (Blum, 2017). Independent venture capitalists pay considerable attention to the presence and magnitude of abusive leadership in companies during due diligence (Blum, 2017). Companies with a high degree of abusive supervision risk losing potentially profitable contracts and additional investments. In addition, employees who have faced abusive supervision and other types of occupational violence often need up to a month away from work to recover from the trauma (CDC, 2020). Such adverse effects lead to financial losses for organizations, indicating that abusive supervision is a negative phenomenon that has a detrimental impact on company development.
Abusive supervision causes employees’ ignorance of or unwillingness to follow safety guidelines, resulting in various negative legal outcomes. Mullen et al. (2018) analyzed situations related to employees’ insufficient commitment to safety measures caused by their supervisors’ incivility or employees’ views regarding supervisors’ attitude towards workplace safety. Various litigations can arise because of a lack of commitment to safety measures. Employees have different views on workplace abuse, and the way abusive supervision is perceived may vary substantially depending on people’s attitudes (Park et al., 2020). In some cases, employees may take legal action to respond to a supervisor’s incivility, which can cause significant issues for the organization.
Impact of Abuse on Productivity
One of the indirect effects on employees’ productivity resulting from abusive leadership is deviant behaviors. Personnel with low levels of self-esteem become the victims of abusive supervision more frequently and are more prone to engage in abnormal behaviors (Kluemper et al., 2019). These behaviors can take different forms, but they tend to hurt employees’ performance and the overall workplace environment. Kluemper et al. (2019) identified the negative relationship between high core self-evaluation and deviant conduct under abusive supervision. Cognitive resources play an important moderating role and prevent workplace deviance, ensuring employees’ productivity (Kluemper et al., 2019). Another mediating factor is emotional competency and age. It was found that older employees used cognitive reappraisal more effectively and were less receptive to their supervisors’ abusive leadership practices (Peng et al., 2020). In light of these findings, it can be concluded that workplace deviation under abusive supervision is mediated by leaders’ and employees’ traits, competencies, and skills.
Teams’ and entire companies’ productivity can also be affected if abusive supervision characterizes the workplace climate. Ghani et al. (2020) examined the effects of abusive leadership on employees’ knowledge sharing—or rather knowledge hiding. The findings suggest that employees exposed to workplace abuse are less likely to share knowledge, which negatively affects the performance of teams and everyone’s productivity. Knowledge hiding associated with occupational abuse has received considerable attention among scholars. Feng and Wang (2019) claimed that knowledge hiding leads to poor performance and a distrustful climate in the workplace, but it is still typical of people experiencing abusive supervision. These findings have been supported by studies situated in different cultural contexts; for example, Khalid et al. (2018) analyzed knowledge hiding in response to abusive supervision in the Islamic context (which involves countries and regions worldwide).
Employees’ productivity and the development of firms can be seriously undermined by abusive supervision. For example, frontline employees tend to take revenge on customers due to workplace abuse (Hongbo et al., 2020). Abused employees may provide poor quality service or even insult customers, producing detrimental organizational outcomes for the business overall. Indeed, Park and Kim (2019) reported that employees could engage in service sabotage because of abusive supervisors, and such reactions have a negative influence on their performance and the overall growth of their companies.
Abusive Leadership and Creativity
The negative impact of abusive supervision on employees’ creativity is another common topic of exploration. People are less likely to express innovative ideas when they find themselves under pressure or have physical or mental health issues. Moreover, Shen et al. (2020a) noted that individuals tend to resist an innovative approach or innovative techniques if they have abusive supervisors. Shen et al. (2020a) also stressed that although workplace climate could have a mediating role, employees’ traits were a more influential factor impacting creativity under abusive leadership. Similarly, Tian et al. (2020) claimed that occupational abuse was associated with decreased innovative behaviors and self-efficacy. Researchers agreed that abusive supervision should be abandoned or minimized to develop a favorable workplace climate.
As stated, transformational leadership is the most appropriate model for facilitating employees’ creativity. In some cases, transformational leadership even mitigates the adverse effects of abusive supervision (Suifan et al., 2018). However, these positive outcomes are limited to contexts, situations, organizational cultures. For example, if a company has a well-established culture as a learning organization, transformational leadership cannot affect employees’ creativity (Suifan et al., 2018). However, these influences are not found in companies with a weak culture or low employee commitment.
Abusive supervision influences different aspects of creativity through diverse mechanisms explored by the conservation of resources theory. It is becoming standard for research concerning abusive leadership and its outcomes. Although the direct link between abusive supervision and employee creativity is not apparent, abusive leadership has adverse indirect effects on creativity. Abusive leadership disrupts employees’ sleep patterns and increases their exhaustion, resulting in lower creativity and less engagement in creative processes (Han et al., 2017). However, the relationship between these variables is relatively weak, leading researchers to doubt the link between abusive leadership and employee creativity. Han et al. (2017) suggested that the connection may result from the peculiarities of the research methodology. Other significant limitations have been associated with the causal relationship between emotional exhaustion or sleep patterns and work-related environment. The topic should be further researched, as it is currently unclear how emotional exhaustion and lack of sleep can affect the work climate.
Another negative influence of abusive supervision on employees’ creativity is associated with social aspects of the workplace environment. As mentioned earlier, employees tend to choose knowledge-hiding when exposed to abusive supervision (Jahanzeb et al., 2019). Therefore, people’s reciprocity beliefs substantially impact their attitudes and responses to perceived abusive supervision. Knowledge hiding is a common reaction to abusive leadership for several reasons (Jahanzeb et al., 2019). Firstly, employees are afraid of leaders who manage rewards and other benefits because they are afraid to lose a reward or even be penalized. They also see knowledge concealment as an act that can be obscured relatively easily. In addition, employees experiencing negative reciprocity (meaning they receive lesser rewards than others, no rewards at all, or penalties) may want to engage in behaviors that can harm the organization and particularly the leader.
More studies also suggest that abusive supervision can have controversial effects on employees’ performance and productivity. For instance, Zhu and Zhang (2019) found that supervisors’ incivility discouraged employees’ innovative behaviors but could also promote the adoption of innovative approaches by increasing challenge-related stress. In addition, Zhang and Liu (2017) reported specific positive effects of abusive supervision in some cultural landscapes. For example, in collectivist cultures and companies with a more proactive working climate, abusive supervision can motivate employees to work harder because they see supervisors’ incivility to encourage rather than insult or hurt.
Abusive Supervision and Gender
Researchers have paid significant attention to the influence of abusive leadership on different genders. Occasional exposure to abusive supervision can positively affect male employees’ performance in the short term (Haryanto & Cahyono, 2019). However, male employees experiencing prolonged abusive leadership tend to underperform. In such situations, the workplace environment becomes unfavorable, and deviant behaviors and a high turnover rate may be present.
Conversely, female employees tend to experience abusive leadership more intensely (Pradhan et al., 2018). Female employees are more likely to quit than their male peers if they are exposed to abusive behaviors. In contrast, male employees tend to be more confident and defend themselves in other ways, such as deviant behaviors. Pradhan et al. (2018) note that abusive leadership is difficult to eliminate. Still, its adverse outcomes can be mitigated with the help of educational interventions for leaders and employees to develop communication, collaboration, and conflict management skills. Gender differences are associated with the psychological peculiarities of genders, which result in men and women using different coping strategies. However, the authors state that men and women use different coping strategies in the workplace (Pradhan et al., 2018). On the other hand, Zhou et al. (2020) found no meaningful gender differences in psychological distress, work-family conflicts, and the risk of alcohol abuse resulting from abusive supervision. Therefore, further research is required to investigate whether abusive supervision can have different outcomes for men and women.
Cultural Peculiarities and Abusive Leadership
The cultural peculiarities of employees can shape the consequences of leaders’ abusive behaviors. For example, Asian and Western cultures differ in terms of the outcomes of abusive supervision, with researchers identifying the positive effects of abusive leadership in the Asian context (Zhang & Liu, 2018). As a culture with high power distance, leaders in the Asia Pacific region expect a high degree of obedience, and subordinates have a high tolerance for abuse. Employees often occupy a lower social position and are submissive to the authority of someone with a higher status (Zhang & Liu, 2018). These cultural dynamics are associated with specific favorable performance outcomes in response to abusive supervision.
Bregenzer et al. (2019) examined the relationship between abusive supervision and the health-related and social resources of employees in high and low power distance cultures. They found that in high power contexts, employees need more health-related resources when experiencing abusive leadership as they see this type of supervision as inappropriate and counterproductive. At the same time, in low power distance cultures, employees accept the supervisor’s authority, whose abusive behavior is tolerated. Employees under abusive supervision require more social resources, which encourages the development of solid, supportive teams; this response to abusive supervision fosters positive workplace outcomes, but it tends not to occur in high power distance cultures.
Another cultural dimension that can considerably affect the relationship between abusive leadership and employee performance is future orientation, meaning that employees are focused on future outcomes and long-term goals. Employees’ future direction moderates the relationship between abusive supervision and overall organizational behavior, as well as the link between abusive leadership and employees’ behaviors (Yang et al., 2019). The organizational behavior of an employee differs from its original behavior in that it is aimed at achieving the goals set by the organization. Employees who focus on future outcomes and long-term goals are less negatively affected by the abusive behavior and perform better. In addition, employees’ seniority is linked to their responses to a leader’s abusive behaviors. Junior subordinates are more likely to have a lower tolerance for abusive leadership, and the role of future orientation is less pronounced.
Yang et al. (2019) explained that this phenomenon was caused by employees’ fears and a lack of familiarity, suggesting that companies mitigate the adverse effects of abusive supervision by developing a future-oriented culture and implementing job enrichment, job rotation, and originality incentives. Learning goal orientation (which stands for acquiring and mastering new skills and improving competence in the workplace) also has a mediating impact. It alleviates the negative consequences of abusive supervision (Islam et al., 2020). Islam et al. (2020) mentioned that work ethics can play a moderating role and dilute the adverse outcomes of abusive leadership.
Other cultural elements also influence the way negative leadership styles affect employee performance. For example, collectivism mitigates the adverse effect of abusive leadership on employees’ social resources, resulting in higher morale, creativity, and performance (Bregenzer et al., 2019). As previous research found that health-promoting behaviors can soften the adverse outcomes of abusive leadership in cultures characterized by a high degree of collectivism, Bregenzer et al. (2019) also identify this kind of effect.
People whose cultural backgrounds differ in power distance are differently affected by a leader’s abusive behaviors. The negative implications of abusive supervision are more substantial in lower power distance cultures than in high power distance cultures (Park et al., 2017). In the Chinese context, it has been found that employees in high-power-distance organizations are more sensitive to abusive supervision and tend to engage more frequently in acquiescent silence (Lam & Xu, 2018). These employees are also unwilling to provide feedback, which is a common outcome of abusive leadership. Lam and Xu (2018) added that a strong political, organizational setting moderates the impact of abusive supervision on employees’ silence and power distance orientation. High power orientation prevents employees’ deviant behaviors irrespective of the degree of a leader’s abusive behaviors (Hussain & Sia, 2017).
Employees’ reactions to abusive supervision differ in masculine and feminine cultures. The former is characterized by increased counterproductive work behavior and deteriorated performance in the presence of abusive leadership. Masculinity contest cultures are characterized by a high level of abusive leadership in the work environment. This type of culture is associated with increased competitiveness, goal orientation, high levels of stress, and work/life conflict. Heavy focus on goal attainment and achievements makes masculine cultures more prone to abusive supervision (Zhang et al., 2019).
On the contrary, feminine cultures are characterized by lower levels of counterproductive work behavior and reduced competitiveness. The mediating factors for both masculine and feminine cultures are organizational justice and work-related stress. Organizational justice has a robust moderating effect, especially when ethical leadership is utilized.
The experiences of immigrants and their response to abusive supervision also differ from the reactions of other employees. One of the coping strategies for immigrants is the rejection of their cultural heritage when they perceive this to be one of the primary reasons for a leader’s abusive behavior (Bernardo et al., 2018). Detachment from one’s heritage can negatively impact an immigrant’s physical and mental health and lead to adverse outcomes, and abusive supervision can therefore have detrimental effects on immigrants’ well-being.
Significant Trends in Abusive Supervision Research
The research regarding abusive leadership is extensive, but some aspects require further investigation. Zhang and Liu (2018) identified six emerging trends in abusive supervision research: team climate, comparisons of theoretical perspectives, co-worker impact, comparisons of objective and perceived behaviors, reciprocity, and abusive supervision inconsistency. Mullen et al. (2018) explored inconsistent leadership’s effects when supervisors utilize transformational leadership and abusive supervision in different and similar contexts. Particular attention has been paid to the relationship between abusive leadership and the leader and the followers (Epitropaki et al., 2017). While different dimensions of identity formation have been explored, diverse gaps remain, including antecedents and moderating factors of identity.
Ethical leadership, morality, and ethics are common concepts in recent research on abusive leadership. Leaders’ moral identity and ethical behaviors are potent factors responsible for reducing abusive behaviors (Taylor et al., 2019). Additionally, subordinates with more rigid views of morality are affected more significantly by abusive supervision both directly and indirectly. For example, supervisors experiencing abuse from their managers tend to choose less abusive leadership styles with their subordinates due to their disidentification with their abusive managers. Developing a coherent culture based on high moral standards can mitigate the adverse effects of abusive leadership.
Mackey et al. (2017) analyzed the methodology used to explore diverse aspects of abusive supervision. Abusive leadership appears to have both negative and positive impacts on employee performance and workplace environment, depending on the context. The significance of the link between the results and antecedents of abusive supervision varies based on the peculiarities of a given study’s design (Mackey et al., 2017). Mackey et al. (2017) undertook a comprehensive meta-analysis and found that Tepper’s abusive supervision measurement was used in the reviewed studies, but the method was modified in various cases. The focus on frequency and the use of agreement scales were some of the most common alterations. These modifications are associated with specific differences in the magnitude of abusive leadership, indicating that perceived abusive behavior differs due to diverse factors.
Raza et al. (2019) examined the strategies that organizations can utilize to avoid abusive leadership or mitigate its adverse outcomes. Enhancing employees’ psychological capital is one method of reducing the impact of abusive supervision (Raza et al., 2019). Abusive leadership can also be minimized through various human resources methods and staff training and development (Eissa & Lester, 2017), as well as by focusing on personal traits and the development of diverse competencies in leaders. Leaders can receive training in self-control, emotional intelligence, and time management, and training for leaders may also encompass the development of skills necessary for supportive supervision strategies (Gonzalez-Morales et al., 2018), such as benevolence, experiential processing, fairness, and sincerity. These skills can establish a favorable work environment and enhance employees’ motivation and productivity.
Both employees and leaders can receive training regarding possible health-related outcomes of abusive behavior and different types of responses, namely physical and emotional coping mechanisms. This knowledge is instrumental in rendering employees more responsible and willing to comply with high ethical standards (Lopes et al., 2018). When choosing the most appropriate training interventions, paying attention to cultural dimensions such as power distance, collectivism, and future orientation (Bregenzer et al., 2019; Zhang & Liu, 2018). Since employees perceive abusive supervision differently, their responses to and coping strategies for abusive leadership tend to differ.
Creating an influential organizational culture based on high moral standards and proactive relationships built on psychological capital and different competencies is a potential solution that can minimize abusive leadership and address its adverse effects (Ju et al., 2019). In addition, the importance of a proactive organizational culture that facilitates collaboration among employees has gained support in academia. Samreen et al. (2019) noted that relationships among abused employees play a mediating role in employees continuing to perform their tasks effectively. Choi et al. (2018) stress that employees’ ability to fulfill the psychological contract (a set of beliefs and expectations as perceived by the employer and the employee) positively affects knowledge sharing and organizational performance. Although employees may face certain types of abusive supervision, the adverse outcomes of these experiences are mitigated when the psychological contract is fulfilled.
A focus on fairness and ethical efficacy are also fundamental to creating the premises for an appropriate working atmosphere and organizational culture. In such settings, employees collaborate and support each other, positively affecting their performance and productivity (Priesemuth & Schminke, 2019). The development of transparent principles and norms can eliminate abusive supervision practices and enhance employees’ resilience. Raising employees’ awareness of the moral tenets and standards of the workplace builds employees’ strength and minimizes abusive practices (Guo et al., 2020).
Organizations should ensure that procedural justice and transparent standards are properly formalized. Ramdeo and Singh (2019) stated that procedural justice can potentially neutralize the adverse effects of workplace abuse. Wang et al. (2020) also suggested a set of measures to prevent employees from abusive supervision. The researchers explained that employees’ evaluation of managers’ performance can influence managers’ pay and is, therefore, an effective means of ensuring proper leadership. The development of a culture of collaboration can also be beneficial for organizations because it diminishes the adverse effects of workplace abuse. Employees can mutually support each other, develop resilience to cope with abusive supervision, and remain committed to organizational goals.
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