The purpose of this paper is twofold: first, to examine a customer orientation mechanism through which abusive supervision influences retail salespeople’s job performance; and second, to investigate how abusive supervision’s effects may be moderated by the same leader’s use of contingent punishment and contingent reward.
Two studies provide consistent findings. Study 1 used the field survey data from 129 salespeople in 42 retail stores. The proposed moderated mediation model was estimated using the random coefficient modeling technique. Findings were replicated in Study 2, in which data were collected from a sample of 679 US retail salespeople recruited through M-Turk.
Results from both studies show that abusive supervision reduces salespeople’s job performance through lowering their customer orientation. Furthermore, the use of contingent punishment from the same supervisor buffers abusive supervision’s detrimental effect, whereas the use of contingent reward augments it.
The issues the authors address in this research have significant implications for the literature of abusive supervision and retail selling. First, the authors contribute to the abusive supervision literature by pointing it out that the negative effect of abusive supervision can spill over to organizations’ external stakeholders, namely, customers. Previous research on abusive supervision has mainly focused on how abused subordinates exhibit hostile acts directed against the supervisor, coworkers and the organization (Tepper et al., 2017), with little attention paid to abusive supervision’s impact on organizations’ external stakeholders such as customers. This research fills the void by placing impaired customer-orientation as a critical consequence of abusive supervision. Second, this research tests a contingent self-regulation impairment model of abusive supervision and advances our understanding about how the same supervisor’s functional leadership behaviors (contingent reward/punishment) may set contingencies for the effect of abusive supervision on employee outcomes. This investigation clears the doubts about whether the use of functional leadership behaviors along with abusive supervision buffers or aggravates the detrimental effect of the latter. Finally, this study’s findings shed new insights to marketing practitioners, especially in understanding how salespeople may vent their stress on the customers when being abused by their supervisors. Without this in mind, supervisors may not be aware of the consequences of their abusive behavior and may even develop an illusion that such a practice worked. This research shows that abusive supervision can lower employees’ customer orientation, which will hurt the company in the long run.
The findings intend to provide important guidelines for companies to develop effective workshops and training programs to combat the detrimental effects of abusive supervision in the retailing industry. For example, the findings shed new insights in understanding how employees may vent their stress on the customers when being abused by their supervisors. Without this in mind, supervisors may not be aware of the consequences of their abusive behavior and may even develop an illusion that such a practice worked. Another important managerial implication of this research is that the use of contingent reward after mistreating subordinates can backfire. Supervisor abuses, followed by a contingent reward, send an inconsistent signal to the employee that creates confusion and strain. Inconsistent actions from the supervisor also produce ethical tensions that reduce customer-oriented behaviors and a company’s ability to serve the customer (Friend et al., 2020). These training programs are important methods to combat the detrimental effects of abusive supervision in the workforce.
This research draws on the contingent self-regulation impairment model as an overarching framework to unpack the relationship between abusive supervision and salespeople’s job performance. Integrating three research streams (i.e. abusive supervision, leadership reinforcement and retail selling), this study proposes customer orientation as a novel mechanism and sheds light on how abusive supervision interplays with contingent punishment/reward to impact salespeople’s outcomes.
This study was supported by a research grant from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No.71572103).
Yang, Z., Jaramillo, F., Liu, Y., Ye, W. and Huang, R. (2020), "Abusive supervision in retailing: the mediating role of customer orientation and the moderating roles of contingent reward and contingent punishment", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/EJM-03-2019-0265Download as .RIS
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