Based on revenge theory and the three objectives of social interaction theory of aggression, the purpose of this paper is to develop a framework to answer why and when a subordinate’s own behaviour instigates abuse at the workplace. In particular, the authors argue that subordinate gossip behaviour instils in supervisors a thought of revenge towards that subordinate, which, in turn, leads to abusive supervision. Specifically, this hypothesised relationship is augmented when the supervisor feels close to the gossiper (i.e. psychological proximity).
The authors conducted two independent studies to test the moderated mediation model, which collectively investigate why and when subordinate gossip behaviour provokes abusive supervision in the workplace. A lagged study (i.e. Study 1: 422 supervisors and subordinates) in a large retail company and an experience sampling study (i.e. Study 2: 96 supervisors and subordinates with 480 daily surveys) in multiple organisations provide support for the moderated mediation model.
The two-study (i.e. a lagged study and an experience sampling study) findings support the integrated model, which has mainly focussed on instrumental consideration of abusive supervision that influences the supervisor–subordinate relationship.
The two-study investigation has important and meaningful implications for abusive supervision research because it determines that subordinate gossip behaviour is more threating to a supervisor when the subordinate and the supervisor are psychological close to each other than when they are not. That is because when they are close, the supervisor is not expecting gossip behaviour from the subordinate, thus giving rise to an abusive workplace.
Financial support from the Natural Sciences Foundation of China (Project No. 71373251; No. 71422014) is gratefully acknowledged.
Ahmad, B., Tariq, H., Weng, Q.(D)., Shillamkwese, S.S. and Sohail, N. (2019), "When a proximate starts to gossip: Instrumentality considerations in the emergence of abusive supervision", Employee Relations, Vol. 41 No. 5, pp. 851-875. https://doi.org/10.1108/ER-08-2018-0225
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