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Coping with abusive leaders

Srikanth P.B. (Department of Human Resources, XLRI Jamshedpur, School of Business and Human Resources, Jamshedpur, India)

Personnel Review

ISSN: 0048-3486

Article publication date: 12 December 2019

Issue publication date: 17 June 2020




More than a decade of research on abusive leader behaviors suggests a consensus regarding its deleterious effects on employees’ contextual performance. Therefore, research on how to cope with abusive leader behaviors is both theoretically and practically important. The purpose of this paper is to examine how individuals’ personality and appropriate coping strategy may jointly help in weakening the negative effects of abusive leader behaviors.


The study examines the relationship between social support coping strategy and agreeableness. Data collected from full-time employees and their reporting managers were used for analyses. Data were analyzed using moderated regression techniques followed by conditional indirect effects testing.


The study provides supports to the evidence that the relationship between abusive leader behaviors and contextual performance was weaker for employees high in agreeableness. Additionally, the use of social support coping strategy facilitated a negative relationship between abusive leader behaviors and contextual performance. Finally, the moderating effects of agreeableness were mediated by the use of social support coping strategy.

Research limitations/implications

The study contributes to theories of abusive supervision, personality and coping strategies. The results offer insights into the joint roles of personality and the social support coping strategy that may weaken the negative influence of abusive leader behaviors and contextual performance.

Practical implications

Human resource practitioners may benefit from formally institutionalizing social support through mentoring programs and informally through “buddy” programs for newly joined employees, to understand the organization culture and voice their concerns.


While most studies on abusive leader behavior focused on the deleterious effects, this study is one of the few that explores the role of coping strategy while dealing with abusive leader.



The author sincerely thanks Associate Editor Professor Ng and two anonymous reviews for their constructive feedback that helped the author improve the previous drafts.


P.B., S. (2020), "Coping with abusive leaders", Personnel Review, Vol. 49 No. 6, pp. 1309-1326.



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