Abusive Supervisory Reactions to Coworker Relationship Conflict

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The Leadership Quarterly 22 (2011) 1010–1023

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The Leadership Quarterly
j o u r n a l h o m e p a g e : w w w. e l s ev i e r. c o m / l o c a t e / l e a q u a

Abusive supervisory reactions to coworker relationship conflict Kenneth J. Harris a,⁎, Paul Harvey b, K. Michele Kacmar c
Indiana University Southeast, School of Business, 4201 Grant Line Road, New Albany, IN 47150, USA Management Department, Whittemore School of Business and Economics, University of New Hampshire, USA Department of Management and Marketing, Culverhouse College of Commerce and Business Administration, 143 Alston Hall, Box 870225, The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama 35487-0225, USA b c a

a r t i c l e

i n f o

a b s t r a c t
This study extends research on abusive supervision by exploring how supervisor reports of conflict with their coworkers are related to abusive behaviors and resulting outcomes. We utilize research on displaced aggression, conflict, and leader–member exchange (LMX) theory to formulate our hypotheses. Results from two samples of 121 and 134 matched supervisor– subordinate dyads support the idea that supervisors experiencing coworker relationship conflict are likely to engage in abusive behaviors directed toward their subordinates and that LMX quality moderates this relationship. Additionally, abusive supervision was associated with decreased work effort and organizational citizenship behaviors (OCB). Results also indicate that in both samples abusive supervision mediates the relationships between supervisor reports of coworker relationship conflict and OCB, and in one sample mediates the association between supervisor-reported coworker relationship conflict and work effort. © 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Available online 10 August 2011 Keywords: Abusive supervision Coworker relationship conflict Multi-level

1. Introduction Abusive supervision, or the prolonged hostile treatment of subordinates, has been recognized as a significant threat to employee well being and productivity in both the popular press (e.g., Elmer, 2006) and in organizational research (e.g., Duffy, Ganster, & Pagon, 2002; Harris, Kacmar, & Zivnuska, 2007; Harvey, Stoner, Hochwarter, & Kacmar, 2007; Hoobler & Brass, 2006; Mitchell & Ambrose, 2007; Tepper, 2000, 2007; Tepper, Duffy, & Shaw, 2001; Zellars, Tepper, & Duffy, 2002). Behaviors that fall under the umbrella of abusive supervision, such as sabotaging, yelling at, or ignoring subordinates, have been linked to an array of negative consequences (see Tepper, 2007 for an overview). Research also suggests that these forms of abuse are alarmingly common in modern organizations (Namie & Namie, 2000; Tepper, 2007). The purpose of this study is to develop and test a conceptual model that expands our knowledge of antecedents, moderators, and consequences of abusive supervision. We also build on past research showing that supervisors' relationship conflicts can “trickle down” to subordinates in the form of abusive behaviors (Aryee, Chen, Sun, & Debrah, 2007). Specifically, we test the notion that supervisors who experience relationship conflict, defined as interpersonal “tension, animosity, and annoyance” (Jehn, 1995, p. 258), with their coworkers respond by abusing subordinates. The proposed relationship between supervisor-level coworker relationship conflict and abusive supervision is rooted in the notion of displaced aggression, which occurs when the reaction to an unpleasant outcome or behavior from one source is redirected to a second source (Miller, Pedersen, Earlywine, & Pollock, 2003; Tedeschi & Norman, 1985). Consistent with Tepper (2007), we argue that the relatively weak retaliatory power of subordinates, as compared to coworkers, increases the likelihood that relationship conflict-driven frustration will be vented at subordinates. We qualify this assumption, however, by arguing that supervisors who experience coworker...
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