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How to survive mistreatment by customers: Employees’ work withdrawal and their coping resources

Xiaohui Wang (Department of Business Administration, Lingnan (University) College, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, China)
Haibo Wang (Department of Business Administration, Lingnan (University) College, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, China)

International Journal of Conflict Management

ISSN: 1044-4068

Article publication date: 14 August 2017

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of the present research is to investigate the mechanisms by which conflict with customers (i.e. customer mistreatment) contributes to employees’ work withdrawal.

Design/methodology/approach

This paper tests its hypotheses by means of a field study of a sample of front-line health care workers in China. Data were collected in three waves over four months; a total of 398 health care workers completed the questionnaires and represented the final sample. A hierarchical multiple regression analysis was performed to test the proposed hypotheses.

Findings

The results indicate that mistreatment by customers contributes to employees’ work withdrawal, and emotional exhaustion serves as a mediator in this linkage. In addition, social support moderates the positive relation between customer mistreatment and employees’ emotional exhaustion, whereas conscientiousness moderates the positive relation between emotional exhaustion and withdrawal behavior.

Research limitations/implications

The sample used may not fully justify the generalizability of the research results. Without distinguishing different sources of social support may be another limitation. In addition, this study could be improved by using a multi-source survey design.

Practical implications

To help employees effectively cope with interpersonal conflict with customers, organizations should take action to promote communication between employees and their supervisors and coworkers. It is also advisable for organizations to adjust their selection strategies and hire front-line employees high in conscientiousness.

Originality/value

This research presents a resource-based framework to illuminate the detrimental effects of prolonged exposure to customer mistreatment on health care workers’ withdrawal behavior in Chinese context. Furthermore, this study examines factors that may serve to mitigate the harmful effects of customer mistreatment and regards workplace social support and conscientiousness as two different kinds of resources that can play dissimilar roles when employees are coping with customer mistreatment.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

This paper is supported by “the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central University” at Sun Yat-sen University (Project No. 1409071), and funded in part by Lingnan (University) College and China Institute of Economic Transformation and Opening, Sun Yat-sen University.

Citation

Wang, X. and Wang, H. (2017), "How to survive mistreatment by customers: Employees’ work withdrawal and their coping resources", International Journal of Conflict Management, Vol. 28 No. 4, pp. 464-482. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJCMA-11-2016-0089

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited