The justification of abuse: How supervisors and subordinates cognitively rationalize abusive supervision
Seitz, Stephanie R.
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Abusive supervision is not uncommon in the workplace (Tepper, 2007). Research has revealed that most employees were familiar with abusive behaviors in their organization, even if they had not experienced them firsthand (Keashly, Trott, & MacLean, 1994). These types of behaviors, such as yelling, sabotage, and undermining, have even become normalized, even though abusive supervision is connected with overwhelmingly negative outcomes (Tepper, 2007). In this dissertation, I investigated why this happens, using the theoretical framework of moral justification to explore how supervisors and subordinates rationalize abusive behaviors. First, I examined how supervisors' hostile attribution bias may influence whether subordinates meet their expectations (i.e. implicit follower theory congruence). Next, I examined whether the degree to which these expectations are met interacts with leaders' cognitive prototype for how they should behave (i.e. implicit leadership theory) to predict abusive behaviors. Finally, I explored how subordinates' attributions of whether the abusive behavior is motivated by injury initiation or performance promotion influence how they react to such behavior, as well as how subordinates' hostile attribution bias shapes those attributions. Results indicated that supervisors' hostile attribution bias predicted the extent to which they believe their subordinates are congruent with their follower prototype. In addition, the relationship between abusive supervision and the outcomes of turnover and OCB were moderated by attributions of injury initiation. Finally, subordinates' hostile attribution bias influenced their attributions of injury initiation.