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The role of mindfulness in response to abusive supervision

James P. Burton (Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois, USA)
Larissa K. Barber (Department of Psychology, San Diego State University, San Diego, California, USA)

Journal of Managerial Psychology

ISSN: 0268-3946

Article publication date: 14 June 2019

Issue publication date: 30 July 2019




The purpose of this paper is to explore whether trait and state mindfulness alters the relationship between abusive supervision and interactional justice perceptions, which then predicts supervisor-directed retaliation.


Study 1 examined these relationships among 230 employees using a cross-sectional survey design. Study 2 further examined these relationships among 263 undergraduate students using a scenario-based, experimental laboratory study.


In Study 1, counter to predictions, individuals who were higher in trait mindfulness were most likely to view an abusive supervisor as unfair. Exploratory analyses suggested that this effect was isolated to the mindfulness dimension of being highly attentive to moment-to-moment experiences. Study 2 replicated this effect with state mindfulness (specifically, attention to one’s present moment).

Practical implications

Organizations should consider how mindfulness interventions might not always be useful – and potentially counterproductive – for affecting perceptions of and reactions to some stressful work situations like abusive supervision.


Little research has been done on how mindfulness affects perceptions of and reactions to abusive supervisors. The authors expected mindfulness could reduce the negative effect of supervisor abuse on interactional justice perceptions, as well as the effect of interactional injustice on retaliation. However, within the context of abusive supervision, training individuals to become more mindful may actually predict lower levels of interactional justice, resulting in more supervisor-directed retaliation.



Burton, J.P. and Barber, L.K. (2019), "The role of mindfulness in response to abusive supervision", Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol. 34 No. 5, pp. 339-352.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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