From victim to saboteur

Li Hongbo (School of Management, Jiangsu University, Zhenjiang, China)
Muhammad Waqas (School of Management, Jiangsu University, Zhenjiang, China)
Hussain Tariq (NUST Business School, National University of Sciences and Technology, Islamabad, Pakistan)

Journal of Service Theory and Practice

ISSN: 2055-6225

Publication date: 10 May 2019



By integrating affective events theory and insights from the displaced aggression literature, the purpose of this paper is to highlight that state hostility can serve as an explanation for how perceived undermining by co-workers leads to antagonistic consequences. Distress tolerance and organizational identification are theorized to moderate the hypothesized relationships that are investigated in this study.


PROCESS macro developed by Hayes (2013) was used to test all the hypotheses by using time-lagged, multi-source data collected from 218 Chinese employees associated with the service industry.


The paper finds that state hostility seems to trigger unethical behavior on the part of employees resulting in service sabotage. It is concluded that perceptions of undermining are positively linked to employees’ hostility, which in turn drive service sabotage behavior. Furthermore, employee distress tolerance weakens the effects of perceived undermining on employees’ state hostility, while organizational identification alleviates the effect of employees’ hostility on service sabotage behavior.

Practical implications

This study not only highlights the outcomes of perceived coworker undermining, the mechanism through which it occurs, and the moderating effects of given factors, but also provides insights to the organizations for managing service sector employees so that they can more effectively interact with customers. The findings suggest that employees with high organizational identification are less involved in service sabotage, thus, such measures are necessary to take which help employers to enhance employees’ organizational identification. The authors also suggest managers to clearly communicate the adverse consequences which employees could have to face if they exhibit unethical behavior.


This study addresses the question: when and how perceived coworker undermining affects customers’ services. To date, most of the existing literature considered customers’ negative event and customers’ mistreatment as an antecedent of employees’ service sabotage. However, this study concluded that these are not the only reasons for employees’ service sabotage, employees’ interpersonal mistreatment which occurred beyond customers’ interaction also causes service sabotage.



Hongbo, L., Waqas, M. and Tariq, H. (2019), "From victim to saboteur", Journal of Service Theory and Practice, Vol. 29 No. 1, pp. 2-21.

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