Abusive supervision and its
influence on the mental health
of Maori employees:
The benefits of resilience
Professor Jarrod Haar, Massey Uni (Albany),
Dr Maree Roche, WinTec, &
David Brougham, Massey Uni (Palm North)
2
Introduction
• Abusive supervision affected roughly 13.6% of
United States (US) workers, resulting in an
estimated US$23 billion cost to business
• Prevalence largely unknown in NZ
• No studies on indigenous peoples
• Understanding how employees might better cope
is imperative
• This study examines abusive supervision in New
Zealand on a sample of Maori workers and tests
resilience as a way to buffer the potentially
detrimental effects
Abusive Supervision
• Abusive supervision defined as a “subordinates'
perceptions of the extent to which supervisors
engage in the sustained display of hostile verbal
and nonverbal behaviors, excluding physical
contact” (Tepper, 2000)
• Destructive supervisor behaviour is often
observed through non-physical acts, such as
using derogatory names, intimidation, using
threats of job loss, engaging in explosive and
angry outbursts, withholding necessary
information, taking credit for a subordinate’s
success, and humiliating or ridiculing a
subordinate in front of others
Abusive Supervision
• Abused subordinates signal feelings of
frustration, alienation from work, helplessness,
powerlessness, and undermined
• Manager’s behaviour has to be wilful or
deliberate. But, whether the supervisor meant to
intentionally cause harm to the subordinate is
irrelevant e.g. supervisor mistreating their
subordinate in order to encourage improved
performance – thus the behaviour is intentional,
yet not for reasons of causing harm
• Theoretical links? Org justice (fairness of
treatment) and social exchange theory (give and
take)
Outcomes of Abusive Supervision
• Abusive supervision has been linked to a wide
range of outcomes including job and personal
outcomes. Overall, there is strong support for
abusive supervision being detrimental to
outcomes.
• Given high rates of mental health issues amongst
Maori, we focus on anxiety and depression
Hypotheses: Abusive supervision will be
positively related to (1) anxiety and (2)
depression.
Resilience
• Toughness, the ability to be adaptable to adversity;
hardiness; stress resistant.
• Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do
not have. It involves behaviours, thoughts, and
actions that can be learned and developed.
• It develops with time and is used when an individual
is confronted with unanticipated situations/events
and demonstrates the flexibility to cope
• Studies show resilience can be very important for
coping with stressors and thus the focus of this
study
Method
• Due to Maori making up 13% of the NZ
workplace, purposive sampling was undertaken.
• 100 organizations participated in the study and
data collection was undertaken in two waves
(predictor and outcomes).
• From a total pool of 500 Maori employees
• 261 responses
• Respondents ranged across a variety of
industries
• Measures were all robust 
Findings
• All 1-5 scale (low to high)
• Abusive Supervision: M=1.8
• Resilience: M=4.2
• Anxiety: M=1.9 & Depression: M=1.6
Regression analysis:
• Abusive supervision sig predicted anxiety (12%
variance) and depression (18%). Resilience
directly and negatively related but more modest:
anxiety (4%) and depression (5%).
• Significant interaction effect towards depression
only (extra 2% variance)
Interaction Effects: Depression
2.8
2.6
Depression
2.4
2.2
Low Resilience
2
High Resilience
1.8
1.6
1.4
1.2
Low Abusive Supervision
High Abusive Supervision
Discussion
• Support for the detrimental effects of abusive
supervision on mental health
• Direct and buffering role of resilience 
• The results showed that abusive supervision is
prevalent in NZ: occurring more often than in
other studies M=1.8 (most < 1.8)
• Abusive supervision was found to be detrimental
to both outcomes, although more to depression
than anxiety
• However, overall these levels are low! 
• Broadly, this might reflect the benefits of paid
employment for Maori(?)
Implications & Conclusions
• Importance of training and performance
management/review of supervisors. Continual
evaluation (e.g. 360o) may provide clearer evidence
of abusive & timelier notice for HR
• Overall, there is strong support for resilience in its
ability to enable Maori employees to withstand the
detrimental effects of poor supervision
• Because resilience is a developmental construct,
organizational interventions offer a way to build this
construct – which benefits many other outcomes as
well! 
• Acknowledgement: Research funded by Marsden Grant
(UOW806) “The Role of Maori Cultural Support for
Employees & Employers”
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