Journal of Applied Psychology
2007, Vol. 92, No. 4, 1159 –1168
Copyright 2007 by the American Psychological Association
0021-9010/07/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/0021-9010.92.4.1159
Abusive Supervision and Workplace Deviance and the Moderating Effects
of Negative Reciprocity Beliefs
Marie S. Mitchell and Maureen L. Ambrose
University of Central Florida
In this study, the authors examine the relationship between abusive supervision and employee workplace
deviance. The authors conceptualize abusive supervision as a type of aggression. They use work on
retaliation and direct and displaced aggression as a foundation for examining employees’ reactions to
abusive supervision. The authors predict abusive supervision will be related to supervisor-directed
deviance, organizational deviance, and interpersonal deviance. Additionally, the authors examine the
moderating effects of negative reciprocity beliefs. They hypothesized that the relationship between
abusive supervision and supervisor-directed deviance would be stronger when individuals hold higher
negative reciprocity beliefs. The results support this hypotheses. The implications of the results for
understanding destructive behaviors in the workplace are examined.
Keywords: abusive supervision, workplace deviance, reciprocity
standing employee reactions. From a justice perspective, employees react to the perceived unfairness of the abusive supervisor’s
behavior. When employees feel they are treated unfairly, positive
attitudes and behavior suffer (Tepper, 2000; Tepper et al., 1998).
Researchers also have used reactance theory as a foundation for
understanding employee reactions to abusive supervision (Zellars
et al., 2002). Reactance theory suggests that individuals strive to
maintain personal control (Brehm & Brehm, 1981; Wright &
Brehm, 1982). Researchers suggest that employees dealing with an
abusive supervisor usually feel little or no control. As a result,
individuals engage in behavior to restore personal autonomy (e.g.,
decrease organizational citizenship behaviors; Zellars et al., 2002).
Both of these approaches are useful for understanding individuals’ reactions to abusive supervision. However, they do not
capture the uniquely aggressive and hostile behavior that defines
abusive supervision. In this article, we conceptualize abusive supervision as a type of aggression (behaviors perceived by the
employee as intentionally harmful; Baron, 2005). We use work on
retaliation and direct and displaced aggression as a foundation for
examining employees’ reactions to abusive supervision. We investigate the relationship between abusive supervision and employee
deviance directed at the supervisor, the organization, and other
Further, we consider the moderating effects of negative reciprocity beliefs. A negative reciprocity orientation is the tendency
for an individual to return negative treatment for negative treatment (Cropanzano & Mitchell, 2005). We suggest individuals with
In the last decade, there has been increased interest in harmful
or destructive behaviors in organizations. Much of this research
focuses on deviant behaviors of employees. (See Bennett & Robinson, 2003, for a review.) However, recently, research has examined destructive behaviors managers commit—specifically, abusive supervision (e.g. Tepper, 2000; Tepper, Duffy, Hoobler, &
Ensley, 2004; Tepper, Duffy, & Shaw, 2001). In this article, we
consider the relationship between these two types of destructive
Recent research by Tepper and his colleagues (Tepper, 2000;
Tepper et al., 2001, 2004; Zellars, Tepper, & Duffy, 2002) has
focused attention on abusive supervision. Tepper (2000) defined
abusive supervision as the “subordinates’ perceptions of the extent
to which their supervisors engage in the sustained display of
hostile verbal and nonverbal behaviors, excluding physical contact” (p. 178).1 Ashforth (1997) described abusive managers as
those who callously and arbitrarily use their power and authority to
mistreat employees. Abusive supervisors are known to use derogatory names, yell and scream, intimidate, withhold needed information, and humiliate and ridicule their employees (Keashly,
1998). Empirical research usually examines abuse from the subordinate’s perspective (Ashforth, 1997; Tepper, 2000; Tepper,
Eisenbach, Kirby, & Potter, 1998; Zellars et al., 2002), and we take
that perspective in this research.
Research on abusive supervision has generally taken either an
organizational justice or a reactance theory approach to underMarie S. Mitchell and Maureen L. Ambrose, Department of Management, University of Central Florida.
We thank Ben Tepper for his generous contributions, specifically data
for reducing the Abusive Supervision measure. We also thank Becky
Bennett, Russell Cropanzano, and Marshall Schminke for their feedback on
earlier versions of this article.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Marie S.
Mitchell, who is now at the Department of Management, University of
Nebraska–Lincoln, P.O. Box 880491, Lincoln, NE 68588-0491. E-mail:
[email protected]
Tepper (2000) also suggests abusive supervision involves indifference,
for example, speaking rudely to subordinates in order to elicit desired task
performance (p. 179). However, most research focuses on the more proactive, willfully hostile behavior (e.g., Ashforth, 1994, 1997; Bies & Tripp,
1998a, 1998c; Namie & Namie, 2000). Indeed, researchers often refer to
abusive supervisors as “managerial bullies” (Ashforth, 1994, 1997; Namie
& Namie, 2000; Salin, 2001). We focus explicitly on the active hostile
behavior in this study.
stronger negative reciprocity beliefs are more likely to direct
deviant behavior toward the perceived source of harm. Thus, in the
case of abusive supervision, stronger negative reciprocity beliefs
should be associated with increased deviant behavior directed at
the supervisor. In the following sections, we review relevant
literature on abusive supervision, employee deviance, and negative
reciprocity beliefs.
Abusive Supervision
Although abusive supervision is a low base-rate phenomenon, it
has notable effects on employee attitudes (Tepper, 2000). Research
shows that abusive supervision is related to lower levels of satisfaction, commitment, and justice perceptions, and higher levels of
turnover, role conflict, and psychological distress (Ashforth, 1997;
Duffy, Ganster, & Pagon, 2002; Tepper, 2000).
Fewer research studies have investigated the effects of abusive
supervision on employee behaviors. Two studies by Tepper and
colleagues (Tepper et al., 2004; Zellars et al., 2002) suggested that
abusive supervision negatively affects organizational citizenship
behaviors. Employees subjected to an abusive supervisor engage in
fewer organizational citizenship behaviors (Zellars et al., 2002).
Further, abusive supervision also negatively affects how employees perceive the genuineness of their peers’ organizational citizenship behaviors (Tepper et al., 2004). In addition to decreased
positive behavior, we suggest abusive supervision will increase
negative behavior, specifically, employee workplace deviance.
In considering the relationship between abusive supervision and
employee deviance, we found research on aggression and retaliation to be useful. This research suggests that interpersonal mistreatment (like abusive supervision) promotes retaliation and aggression displaced on other targets. For example, in their study on
injustice and retaliation, Skarlicki and Folger (1997) found that
conditions of multiple unfairness (distributive, procedural, and
interactional) were associated with higher levels of organizational
retaliatory behavior. Notably, these behaviors are characterized by
both direct and displaced methods of retaliation (e.g., disobeyed
supervisor’s instructions, left a mess unnecessarily, spread rumors
about coworkers). We suggest employees engage in deviant behavior to retaliate directly against their abusive supervisor, and
they may also engage in displaced deviant behavior. Moreover, we
expect negative reciprocity beliefs to affect the relationship between abusive supervision and deviance.
Workplace Deviance
Workplace deviance is purposeful behavior that violates organizational norms and is intended to harm the organization, its
employees, or both (Bennett & Robinson, 2003). Robinson and
Bennett (1995) developed a widely accepted typology of workplace deviance, which categorizes two basic types of deviance:
organizational and interpersonal. Organizational deviance is deviance directed toward the organization (e.g., shirking hours, purposefully extending overtime), and interpersonal deviance is deviance directed toward individuals (e.g., verbal abuse, sexual
harassment). Recent research suggests it is useful to distinguish
between two types of interpersonal deviance: deviant behaviors
targeted against supervisors and those targeted at other individuals
(Hershcovis et al., 2007). Thus, we investigate supervisor-directed
deviance and (nonsupervisory) interpersonal deviance as well as
organizational deviance when considering employee reactions to
abusive supervision.
Abusive Supervision and Employee Deviance
Interpersonal treatment is a driving factor in deviant behavior
(Robinson & Greenberg, 1998). Workplace experiences such as
frustration, injustices, and threats to self are primary antecedents to
employee deviance (Bennett & Robinson, 2003). Ashforth (1997)
suggested that abusive supervision promotes feelings of frustration, helplessness, and alienation. Tepper (2000) found that abusive supervision negatively influences perceptions of justice. Thus,
abusive supervision is a likely antecedent of employee deviance.
As we noted above, we expect abusive supervision will be
related to employee workplace deviance in two ways. First, employees may respond by directly retaliating against their supervisor. Second, employees may engage in “displaced” deviance by
targeting the organization or other individuals. We discuss each of
these below.
Supervisor-Directed Deviance
Retaliation plays an important role in research on aggression as
well as research on workplace deviance. Retaliation involves the
desire to punish an offender for unwarranted and malicious acts
(Averill, 1982). Retaliation refers to behavior that seeks to “make
the wrongdoer pay” for a transgression or event that harms or
jeopardizes the victim in some meaningful way (Skarlicki &
Folger, 2004, p. 374).2
Research on aggression demonstrates individuals may respond
to the aggressive behavior of others by choosing to retaliate. For
example, Brown (1968) found severe offensive behavior (social
humiliation) resulted in strong retaliatory reactions, even at a
personal cost to the retaliator. Bies and Tripp (1996) found that
individuals seek revenge against those who harm them. A recent
meta-analysis demonstrates that when individuals attribute responsibility to a harmdoer, they respond with anger and retaliation
(Rudolph, Roesch, Greitemeyer, & Weiner, 2004).
Several researchers have focused on investigating antecedents
of retaliation in organizations (e.g., Allred, 1999; Bies & Tripp,
1998b; Bies, Tripp, & Kramer, 1997; Folger & Baron, 1996;
Skarlicki & Folger, 1997, 2004). Empirical evidence demonstrates
that individuals retaliate against perceived injustices (Greenberg &
Alge, 1998; Skarlicki & Folger, 1997; Skarlicki, Folger, & Tesluk,
1999), threats to identity (Aquino & Douglas, 2003), violations of
trust (Bies & Tripp, 1996), and personal offense (Aquino, Tripp, &
Bies, 2001). When individuals feel they have been mistreated,
retaliation is a deliberate, rational response (Bies & Tripp, 1996).
Our use of the term retaliation stems from the aggression literature. In
organizational research, scholars have also used the term revenge to describe behavior that is intended to punish another for an offense (see, for
example, Bies & Tripp, 1996, 1998a, 1998b, 1998c). Additionally, the term
retaliation has been used in equal employment opportunity law and the
whistle-blowing literature, in which retaliation is explicated as behavior
that seeks to punish an employee who engages in protected behavior
(Crockett & Gilmere, 1999). This use describes a specific instance of
retaliatory behavior.
Interpersonal mistreatment is a central component of abusive
supervision, and research indicates employees perceive supervisors as a dominant source of interpersonal mistreatment (Bies,
1999). Supervisors are reported to be the most prominent source of
bullying at work (Neuman & Keashly, 2003). Indeed, both theoretical and empirical research suggests abusive supervision is
related to retaliation. For example, Folger (1993) proposed that
supervisors who fail to meet an acceptable standard of demeanor
promote retaliation. Bies and Tripp (1998b) found that victims of
abusive bosses directly undermined their bosses in private as well
as openly ridiculed or challenged them. Baron and Neuman (1998)
reported 31.4% of their respondents displayed aggression against a
supervisor and felt justified doing so. Aquino, Tripp, and Bies
(2006) demonstrated that lower level individuals are more likely to
seek revenge than higher level individuals. Jones (2003) found that
interactional injustice from an authority was significantly related
to supervisor-directed retaliation. Further, a recent meta-analysis
by Hershcovis et al. (2007) found that unfair supervisor treatment
was a strong predictor of supervisor-targeted aggression.
In the workplace deviance literature, retaliation is conceptualized as an interpersonal form of deviance (Bennett & Robinson,
2003). By definition, retaliation involves deliberate actions against
a perceived harmdoer. In the case of abusive supervision, these
behaviors would be targeted against the supervisor (i.e.,
supervisor-directed deviance). Therefore, we believe abusive supervision will be associated with supervisor-directed deviance.
Hypothesis 1a: Abusive supervision will be positively related
to supervisor-directed deviance.
Displaced Deviance
We also expect that abusive supervision will be related to other
types of deviance. That is, in addition to targeting the source of the
abuse, employees will react toward other targets. They will engage
in deviance directed toward the organization (organizational deviance) or individuals other than the supervisor (interpersonal deviance). The theory of displaced aggression guides our thinking here
(Dollard, Doob, Miller, Mowrer, & Sears, 1939)
Research on displaced aggression suggests that individuals who
become angry and frustrated by a harmdoer may displace their
aggression on individuals who are not the source of the harm
(Dollard et al., 1939). Dollard et al. (1939) offered two reasons
why individuals displace aggression. First, the harmdoer may not
be available to retaliate against. Second, the victim may fear
further retaliation from the harmdoer. Should either of these constraints occur, direct retaliation is curbed (Baron, 1971) and aggressive behaviors may be redirected or displaced on less powerful
or more available targets (e.g., coworkers; Miller, 1941). Thus,
retaliation is only one behavior employees may choose to engage
in as a consequence of perceived abuse; victims may also displace
their hostilities on others. We suggest that individuals subjected to
abusive supervision may displace aggression toward the organization (i.e., organizational deviance)3 and individuals other than the
supervisor (i.e., interpersonal deviance).
Hypothesis 1b: Abusive supervision will be positively related
to organizational deviance.
Hypothesis 1c: Abusive supervision will be positively related
to (nonsupervisory) interpersonal deviance.
Moderating Effects of Negative Reciprocity Beliefs
Retaliation plays an important role in our conceptualization of
the relationship between abusive supervision and supervisordirected deviance. The principle of retaliation emphasizes the
biblical injunction of “a life for a life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth
. . . bruise for bruise” (Exodus 21:23–25) and is a common theme
in deviance research (cf. Bennett & Robinson, 2003). Gouldner
(1960) captured this principle in his negative norm of reciprocity.
Reciprocity encompasses quid pro quo behaviors, meaning that
something given generates an obligation to return an equivalent
gesture. Most research focuses on positive reciprocity, which
promotes stability in relationships through considerate, valued, and
balanced exchanges. Favorable treatment generates favorable
However, Gouldner (1960) also noted that individuals may
endorse a negative norm of reciprocity, under which unfavorable
treatment promotes “not the return of benefits but the return of
injuries” (p. 172). Indeed, individuals may be guided by negative
reciprocity beliefs whereby they believe that when someone mistreats them, it is acceptable to retaliate in return (Cropanzano &
Mitchell, 2005). Yet, Gouldner suggested that not all victims seek
to retaliate. Some may feel it is acceptable to “turn the other
cheek.” Thus, individuals vary in their beliefs about the appropriateness of negative reciprocity.
Individuals who endorse negative reciprocity believe retribution
is the correct and proper response to unfavorable treatment (Eisenberger, Lynch, & Aselage, 2004). Those who hold strong negative
reciprocity beliefs are more likely to seek retaliation than avoidance (McLean Parks, 1998). Those who do not hold strong negative reciprocity beliefs are less likely to engage in retaliatory
behavior. Indeed, research demonstrates that individuals vary in
their beliefs about the appropriateness of negative reciprocity.
Moreover, individuals’ negative reciprocity beliefs influence behavioral choices (Gallucci & Perugini, 2003; Perugini, Gallucci,
Presaghi, & Ercolani, 2003).
In sum, individuals with strong negative reciprocity beliefs
consider retaliation an appropriate response to negative treatment.
We suggest negative reciprocity beliefs will moderate the relationship between abusive supervision and employee deviance. However, because negative reciprocity is a quid pro quo belief, the
focus of retaliation should be the source of the mistreatment (the
abusive supervisor). Thus, we suggest that for individuals with
stronger negative reciprocity beliefs, the relationship between perceived abusive supervision and supervisor-directed deviance will
be stronger than for those who do not endorse negative reciprocity.
However, we do not expect negative reciprocity beliefs to affect
the relationship between abusive supervision and deviance toward
the organization or toward individuals other than the supervisor.
Some researchers suggest that individuals may target the organization
in an effort to retaliate against a supervisor (Ambrose, Seabright, &
Schminke, 2002). In our conceptualization, this is still displaced aggression, because the retaliatory attempt is indirect rather than direct. The target
of the aggression differs from the source of the harm.
Hypothesis 2: Negative reciprocity beliefs will moderate the
relationship between abusive supervision and supervisordirected deviance but will not moderate the relationship between abusive supervision and other forms of deviance (organizational or interpersonal). Abusive supervision will be
more strongly related to supervisor-directed deviance when
individuals more strongly believe in negative reciprocity.
Sample and Procedure
Surveys were distributed to individuals called for jury duty by a
county circuit court in the Southeastern United States. The researchers addressed potential jurors at the beginning of the day as
they waited to learn if they would be required to serve. We
explained that the survey had nothing to do with the jury or court
system, but rather, that we sought to understand more about
sensitive issues that affect individuals at work. Therefore, we
indicated that willing participants had to be currently employed.
Interested participants picked up surveys from and returned surveys to the researcher. Over the course of 8 weeks, 427 individuals
agreed to participate in the study (30.5% response rate). The
average age of the participants was 42.7 years old (SD ⫽ 11.95);
average company tenure was 8.7 years (SD ⫽ 8.15), and tenure
with a supervisor was 3.7 years (SD ⫽ 4.08); 38.3% were currently
working in supervisory positions; and 56.9% of the sample was
Abusive supervision. We used a shortened 5-item version of
Tepper’s (2000) Abusive Supervision measure. To develop this
shortened measure, we performed exploratory and confirmatory
factor analyses on two separate data sets that used the original
15-item measure (N ⫽ 741 from Tepper, 2000, and N ⫽ 338 from
Tepper et al., 2004).4 (See Appendixes A and B for results.) The
analyses revealed two distinct factors: One reflected active interpersonal abuse by the supervisor (e.g., “ridicules me” and “tells me
my thoughts and feelings are stupid”). The other reflected more
passive acts of abuse (e.g., “doesn’t give me credit for jobs
requiring a lot of effort”). Because the active dimension is most
consistent with our interest, we used the 5 items representing this
factor as our indicator of abusive supervision. Respondents indicated their agreement with each item using a 7-point scale (1 ⫽
strongly agree, 7 ⫽ strongly disagree).
Deviance. We assessed interpersonal and organizational deviance with measures developed by Bennett and Robinson (2000).
The measures used a 7-point scale (1 ⫽ never, 7 ⫽ daily) and
asked respondents to indicate the number of times in the last year
that they had engaged in the behavior described. Twelve items
assessed perceptions of organizational deviance. Respondents
were asked to indicate behaviors targeted at the company for
which they were currently working. Seven items assessed perceptions of interpersonal deviance. Respondents were asked to indicate behaviors targeted at coworkers. Further, we adapted language from the interpersonal deviance items from both the Bennett
and Robinson (2000) and Aquino, Lewis, and Bradfield (1999)
measures to generate a 10-item measure of supervisor-directed
deviance, which asked respondents to indicate behaviors targeted
against their current supervisor.5 These items are shown in Appendix C.
Negative reciprocity beliefs. Negative reciprocity beliefs were
assessed with a 14-item measure developed by Eisenberger et al.
(2004). The measure contains statements concerning the advisability of retribution for unfavorable treatment. Respondents were
asked to rate their agreement on a 7-point scale (1 ⫽ strongly
agree, 7 ⫽ strongly disagree).
Controls. Past research suggests that trait anger influences
deviant reactions (Eisenberger et al., 2004; Fox & Spector, 1999).
Therefore, we controlled for trait anger in our analyses. We used
the anger subscale of Buss and Perry’s (1992) Aggression Questionnaire, which assesses the dispositional tendency toward anger
in everyday life. Participants expressed agreement on a 5-point
scale (1 ⫽ very slightly true of me, 5 ⫽ very highly true of me). We
controlled for age, because research also suggests that age is
related to deviant reactions (Aquino & Douglas, 2003; Grasmick &
Kobayashi, 2002). Last, we controlled for employees’ tenure with
the supervisor, because research suggests that tenure with the
supervisor influences reactions (Bauer & Green, 1996; Wayne,
Shore, & Liden, 1997).
Social desirability check. In order to assess for socially desirable responses in the deviance, abusive supervision, negative reciprocity beliefs, and trait anger measures, we examined the correlation between individual self-reported items to those of social
desirability. We assessed social desirability with an 18-item short
version of the Paulhus (1991) measure, which has been used in
previous research investigating workplace deviance (Tripp, Bies,
& Aquino, 2002).
Consistent with previous research (Aquino et al., 1999), we
eliminated items that correlated greater than .30 with the Paulhus
items. Thus, four negative reciprocity items were eliminated from
the original set: “If a person wants to be your enemy, you should
We thank Ben Tepper for sharing his data with us for these analyses.
Although research suggests distinguishing between deviant behaviors
targeted against supervisors and those targeted at other individuals
(Hershcovis et al., 2007), the interpersonal deviance measures had not been
adapted in this way previously. To ensure that these three measures of
deviance were distinct, we conducted a series of confirmatory factor
analyses. First, we examined a three-factor model that included the three
separate deviance measures (interpersonal deviance, organizational deviance, and supervisor-directed deviance). This model provided an acceptable fit to the data, ␹2(374) ⫽ 1,689.05, p ⬍ .001, RMSEA ⫽ .09, CFI ⫽
.90, NFI ⫽ .88. We compared the three-factor model to (a) a two-factor
model that combined supervisor-directed deviance and interpersonal deviance into a single interpersonal factor, ␹2(376) ⫽ 2,094.32, p ⬍ .001,
RMSEA ⫽ .10, CFI ⫽ .88; NFI ⫽ .85, (b) a two-factor model that
combined interpersonal deviance and organizational deviance into a single
displaced deviance factor, ␹2(376) ⫽ 2,301.37, p ⬍ .001, RMSEA ⫽ .11,
CFI ⫽ .88, NFI ⫽ .85, and (c) a single-factor model that combined all
deviance items into one deviance factor, ␹2(377) ⫽ 2,522.09, p ⬍ .001,
RMSEA ⫽ .12, CFI ⫽ .86, NFI ⫽ .84. The results of our analysis revealed
the three-factor model produced a significant improvement in chi-squares
over the two-factor interpersonal deviance model, ⌬␹2(2) ⫽ 405.27, p ⬍
.001; the two-factor displaced deviance model, ⌬␹2(2) ⫽ 612.32, p ⬍ .001;
and the one-factor model, ⌬␹2(3) ⫽ 833.04, p ⬍ .001, suggesting the
three-factor model provided a better fit than the alternative models (Schumacker & Lomax, 1996).
treat them like an enemy” (r ⫽ .37), “If someone treats you badly,
you should treat that person badly in return” (r ⫽ .36), “When
someone hurts you, you should find a way they won’t know about
to get even” (r ⫽ .37), and “If someone treats me badly, I feel I
should treat them even worse” (r ⫽ .39). The Cronbach alpha
coefficient for the negative reciprocity beliefs measure without
these four items was .86. All other items showed low correlations
with social desirability (i.e., r ⬍ .30) and were retained in our
Measurement Model Results
We conducted confirmatory factor analyses with maximum likelihood estimation to examine the distinctness of the variables. The
measurement model consisted of five factors: abusive supervision,
negative reciprocity beliefs, interpersonal deviance, organizational
deviance, and supervisor-directed deviance items. The results indicated that the five-factor model provided a good fit to the data,
␹2(1209) ⫽ 3,163.63, p ⬍ .001, root-mean-square error of approximation (RMSEA) ⫽ .06, comparative fit index (CFI) ⫽ .93,
normed fit index (NFI) ⫽ .93. RMSEA scores below .08 (Hoyle &
Panter, 1995) and CFI and NFI scores above .90 (Bentler &
Bonnett, 1990; Bollen, 1989) indicate that the indices fall above
the guidelines for a good fit. We compared the five-factor model
to (a) a four-factor model (where organizational and interpersonal
deviance items were combined into a single “displaced deviance”
factor), ␹2(1214) ⫽ 3,916.08, p ⬍ .001, RMSEA ⫽ .08, CFI ⫽
.91, NFI ⫽ .92, (b) a three-factor model (where all deviance items
were combined into a single factor), ␹2(1218) ⫽ 4,219.28, p ⬍
.001, RMSEA ⫽ .08, CFI ⫽ .90, NFI ⫽ .88, and (c) a single-factor
model, ␹2(1224) ⫽ 10,899, p ⬍ .001, RMSEA ⫽ .14, CFI ⫽ .39,
NFI ⫽ .78. The five-factor model produced a significant improvement in chi-squares over the four-factor model, ⌬␹2(5) ⫽ 752.45,
p ⬍ .001; the three-factor model, ⌬␹2(9) ⫽ 1,055.65, p ⬍ .001;
and the one-factor model, ⌬␹2(15) ⫽ 7,735.91, p ⬍ .001, suggesting a better fit than the other models (Schumacker & Lomax,
Descriptive Statistics and Correlations
Table 1 shows the descriptive statistics, intercorrelations, and
reliabilities for the study variables.
Results of Tests of the Hypotheses
We used hierarchical regression to assess the hypotheses. Following the recommendation of Cohen, Cohen, West, and Aiken
(2003), we mean centered the predictor variables to reduce multicollinearity. Variance inflation factor scores were assessed for
predictive variables, all of which were well below the 10.0 standard (Ryan, 1997). This indicates that multicollinearity did not
present a biasing problem.
It is worth noting the low means for the abusive supervision and
the deviance measures. These means are consistent with those in
other studies (cf. Aquino et al., 1999; Bennett & Robinson, 2000;
Tepper, 2000; Tepper et al., 2001, 2004). Indeed, abusive supervision and workplace deviance are low base-rate phenomena (Bennett & Robinson, 2000 and Tepper, 2000). Nevertheless, the means
suggest the data are not normally distributed. Although ordinary
least squares is robust to nonnormality (Mertler & Vannatta,
2002), we conducted a transformation for negatively skewed data
(Tabachnick & Fidell, 1996) and also analyzed the transformed
data. The results of these analyses are consistent with the results
presented below.
Regression results are provided in Table 2. Hypothesis 1 proposes that abusive supervision will be positively related to (a)
supervisor-directed deviance, (b) organizational deviance, and (c)
interpersonal deviance. The results support this hypothesis. Abusive supervision is positively and significantly related to each type
of deviance. Further, trait anger was significantly and positively
related to supervisor-directed deviance and interpersonal deviance.
Additionally, negative reciprocity beliefs were significantly and
positively related to all types of deviance.
Hypothesis 2 predicts that negative reciprocity beliefs will moderate the relationship between abusive supervision and supervisordirected deviance, but not the relationship between abusive supervision and other types of deviance. The results show that the
Abusive Supervision ⫻ Negative Reciprocity interaction was significantly and positively related to only supervisor-directed deviance. The results support Hypothesis 2.
Figure 1 shows the negative reciprocity beliefs and abusive
supervision interaction on supervisor-directed deviance. Values
representing plus or minus one standard deviation from the mean
were used to generate the plotted regression lines (Cohen et al.,
2003). As predicted, the relationship between abusive supervision
and supervisor-directed deviance was stronger when individuals
had higher negative reciprocity beliefs.
Previous research demonstrates abusive supervision negatively
affects employee attitudes and employees’ willingness to engage
in positive behavior (Tepper et al., 2004; Zellars et al., 2002). The
results of this study show abusive supervision influences employees’ willingness to engage in negative behavior as well. Specifically, abusive supervision is positively related to all types of
employee deviance. Moreover, the relationship between abusive
supervision and supervisor-directed deviance is stronger for employees with stronger negative reciprocity beliefs. Below we discuss these findings in more detail and the implications for managers and organizations.
Research on workplace deviance suggests that individuals may
direct their behaviors at individuals or at the organization. We
predicted abusive supervision would be related to both direct
retaliation—supervisor-directed deviance—as well as displaced
deviant behaviors— deviance targeted at other individuals (coworkers) and at the organization. Our results support this prediction. Abusive supervisory behavior is associated not only with
harm to the source of the abuse but also “collateral” damage to the
organization and others in the workplace.
In addition to the main effect of abusive supervision on employee deviance behaviors, we also expected negative reciprocity
beliefs would play a role in the relationship. As predicted, the
results show that negative reciprocity beliefs strengthened the
relationship between abusive supervision and supervisor-directed
deviance. Employees with stronger negative reciprocity beliefs
who believed their supervisor was abusive engaged in more
Table 1
Summary Statistics and Zero-Order Correlations
Abusive supervision
Negative reciprocity
Supervisor-directed deviance
Organizational deviance
Interpersonal deviance
Trait anger
Tenure with supervisor
Note. Internal reliability coefficients (alphas) appear in parentheses along the main diagonal. Correlations greater than .14 are significant at p ⬍ .01 and
those greater than .10, at p ⬍ .05, two-tailed.
supervisor-directed deviance than individuals who did not endorse
negative reciprocity. The results also show that negative reciprocity beliefs did not significantly influence the relationship between
abusive supervision and other types of deviant behavior (neither
organizational nor interpersonal deviance). Thus, as expected,
negative reciprocity is significantly related only to the quid pro
quo behaviors targeted against the abuser.
Our results also reveal some unexpected findings. First, there
was a significant main effect for negative reciprocity beliefs on all
types of deviance. Whereas the interaction findings support the
belief that negative reciprocity promotes retribution, the main
effect indicates that individuals who hold strong negative reciprocity beliefs also reported greater levels of all types of deviance. This
finding is consistent with Eisenberger et al. (2004), who have
argued that individuals with strong negative reciprocity beliefs
hold a catharsis approach to aggression and get satisfaction from
aggressing against any target, whether guilty or innocent. Thus,
negative reciprocity beliefs may also indicate a general propensity
toward workplace deviance.
The findings on trait anger are also interesting. Trait anger was
positively related to supervisor-directed and interpersonal deviance, but not organizational deviance. Anger has been linked to
theories of frustration-aggression (Dollard et al., 1939) and deviance. (See Perrowe & Spector, 2002 for a review.) The results of
this study suggest that trait anger is differentially related to different types of deviance. These results are consistent with Douglas
and Martinko (2001), who have argued that high trait-anger individuals believe others purposefully and unnecessarily caused them
harm. They found that individuals with high trait-anger were more
inclined to feel vengeful and make hostile attributions about other
persons. Additionally, a recent meta-analysis on workplace aggression found that trait anger was more strongly related to interpersonal than organizational forms of aggression (Hershcovis et al.,
2007). Similarly, we found that trait anger is related only to
deviance directed at individuals. Thus, it seems that interpersonal
interaction and how it is interpreted by individuals with high trait
anger is important to understanding trait anger and behavior.
The results of this study have important implications for researchers and managers. Most notable, the results suggest that
abusive supervision is positively associated with workplace deviance. Below, we consider two ways in which abusive supervision
might affect the overall level of workplace deviance.
First, abusive supervision is associated with higher levels of
deviance directed at others. In our study, we explicitly examined
Table 2
Multiple Regressions of Hypothesized Relationships
Supervisor-directed deviance
Trait anger
Tenure with supervisor
Abusive supervision
Negative reciprocity
Abusive Supervision ⫻
Negative Reciprocity
⌬ R2
Adjusted R2
Organizational deviance
Interpersonal deviance
Step 1
Step 2
Step 3
Step 1
Step 2
Step 3
Step 1
Step 2
Step 3
Note. Standardized beta coefficients are reported. Statistical tests are based on one-tailed tests.
p ⬍ .05. ** p ⬍ .01. *** p ⬍ .001.
Figure 1. Interaction of abusive supervision and negative reciprocity on
supervisor-directed deviance. Values represent standard deviation from the
interpersonal deviance directed at coworkers. Thus, abusive supervision may set off a chain of events in which employee deviance
that results from abusive supervision is directed at coworkers, who
in turn retaliate toward their abusive coworker, and so on, resulting
in a spiral of deviance (an effect similar to Andersson & Pearson’s
[1999] conceptualization of spiraling incivility).
Second, social learning theory suggests that actions exhibited by
agents of an organization (supervisors) establish models of behavior (Bandura, 1973). As such, supervisors may be “modeling”
deviant behaviors (O’Leary-Kelly, Griffin, & Glew, 1996).
O’Leary-Kelly et al. (1996) suggest that witnessing aggressive (or
abusive) models reduces the observer’s inhibitions to act out
similarly. Further, watching aggression may stimulate the observer’s emotional arousal, which also enhances aggressive tendencies
(Berkowitz, 1993; O’Leary-Kelly et al., 1996). Thus, abusive
supervision may create an atmosphere that increases the overall
level of employee deviance.
Of course, because our data are cross-sectional, inferences of
causality cannot be made. Although our conceptualization of the
relationship between abusive supervision and workplace deviance
is consistent with previous work in the area in which abusive
supervision is the antecedent of employee behavior (e.g., Ashforth,
1997; Bamberger & Bacharach, 2006; Tepper, 2000; Tepper et al.,
2001, 2004), other explanations for our findings may exist. For
example, employee deviance may also elicit supervisor responses
(e.g., reprimands, warnings) that are perceived as abusive. Additionally, a hostile work climate (or organizational norms for aggression and interpersonal disrespect) could encourage both abusive supervision and deviance.6 However, it is difficult to construct
an argument for why belief in negative reciprocity would moderate
the relationship between employee supervisor-directed deviance
and abusive supervision but not the relationships between other
types of deviance and abusive supervision in either of these situations. Nonetheless, given the limitations of data for causality
testing, future research should examine the causal processes underlying the relationship between abusive supervision and employee deviance.
There are other limitations that warrant note. All variables were
assessed in a single survey. This raises concerns about common
method variance. Although research indicates that common
method variance may not pose a significant biasing problem
(Spector, 1987), we conducted the Harmon’s single-factor test (see
Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Lee, & Podsakoff, 2003, for a review).
This analysis suggests that there is neither one single factor nor a
dominant general factor that accounts for the majority of the
variance in individual responses. Further, Podsakoff et al. recommend other nonstatistical methods for reducing common method
variance. They recommend protecting respondents’ anonymity and
ensuring that the survey contains questions for which there are no
right or wrong answers. We followed both these suggestions.
Nonetheless, future research might benefit from other methodological precautions, such as collecting data from different sources.
Finally, the use of self-report measures is a limitation. Two
issues arise here. First, as is common with research on aggression,
we examined subordinates’ perceptions of abusive supervision.
The supervisor’s perspective was not assessed. This focus is consistent with previous research on aggression (Dollard et al., 1939)
and retaliation (Skarlicki & Folger, 2004). The underlying belief is
that aggression is in the eye of the beholder; if people perceive that
someone is aggressing against them, they will respond to the
perceived aggression. However, this approach does not assess the
supervisor’s motive.
Second, some researchers contend objective data should be
integrated into deviance research (Greenberg & Folger, 1988;
Robinson & Greenberg, 1998). However, objective data may suffer from criterion deficiency and contamination, because organizations only report these behaviors when employees are caught or
reprimanded (Fox & Spector, 1999). Nonetheless, with selfreports, employees may underreport their deviant behaviors because they fear being caught and punished (Lee, 1993). Our venue
(jury duty) lessens the fear of possible negative consequences from
one’s employer. Additionally, we took methodological precautions
by testing for social desirability. Still, there are limitations to
self-report deviance data.
Interest in destructive behavior in organizations has increased in
the last 10 years. We contribute to this literature by examining the
relationship between two types of destructive behaviors: abusive
supervision and employee deviance. Our results suggest that deviance at one level of the organization (supervisors) is related to
other forms of deviance.
Workplace deviance is a costly problem for organizations (Robinson & Greenberg, 1998). Understanding the role abusive supervision plays in workplace deviance may help organizations and
researchers identify ways to reduce both the financial and psychological costs of deviant behavior. This study is one step toward that
We thank an anonymous reviewer for these observations.
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(Appendixes follow)
Appendix A
Exploratory Factor Analysis Factor Loadings for Tepper’s (2000) Abusive Supervision
Ridicules me.
Tells me my thoughts or feelings are stupid.a
Gives me the silent treatment.
Puts me down in front of others.a
Invades my privacy.
Reminds me of my past mistakes and failures.
Doesn’t give me credit for jobs requiring a lot of effort.
Blames me to save himself/herself embarrassment.
Breaks promises he/she makes.
Expresses anger at me when he/she is mad for another reason.
Makes negative comments about me to others.a
Is rude to me.
Does not allow me to interact with my coworkers.
Tells me I’m incompetent.a
Lies to me.
Note. Dominant factor loadings are presented in boldface. Factor 1 ⫽ passive-aggressive abusive supervision; Factor
2 ⫽ active-aggressive abusive supervision. Factors accounted for 48.1% and 9.0% of the total variance, respectively
(N ⫽ 741). Data are from “Consequences of Abusive Supervision,” by B. J. Tepper, 2000, Academy of Management
Journal, 43, pp. 189 –190. Copyright 2000 by the Academy of Management. Reprinted with permission.
Items retained for the shortened measure that we used in the current study.
Appendix B
Appendix C
Confirmatory Factor Analysis Results for Tepper’s (2000)
Abusive Supervision Measure
Supervisor-Directed Deviance Measure
Note. N ⫽ 338. All chi-square values are significant at p ⬍ .001. CFI ⫽
comparative fit index; NFI ⫽ normed fit index; RMSEA ⫽ root-meansquare error of approximation. Data are from Tepper et al. (2004).
p ⬍ .001, two-tailed.
Made fun of my supervisor at work.
Played a mean prank on my supervisor.
Made an obscene comment or gesture toward my supervisor.
Acted rudely toward my supervisor.
Gossiped about my supervisor.
Made an ethnic, religious, or racial remark against my supervisor.
Publicly embarrassed my supervisor.
Swore at my supervisor.
Refused to talk to my supervisor.
Said something hurtful to my supervisor at work.
Note. Supervisor-directed deviance items were adapted from the following scales. Items 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, and 10 are from Bennett & Robinson (2000),
p. 360. Items 5, 8, and 9 are from Aquino et al. (1999), p. 1082.
Received January 30, 2005
Revision received October 24, 2006
Accepted October 25, 2006 䡲

Abusive Supervision and Workplace Deviance and the Moderating Effects