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Victim and Culprit? The Effects of Entitlement and Felt Accountability on Perceptions of Abusive Supervision and Perpetration of Workplace Bullying

Abstract

Although workplace bullying is common and has universally harmful effects on employees’ outcomes, little is known about workplace bullies. To address this gap in knowledge, we draw from the tenets of social exchange and displaced aggression theories in order to develop and test a model of workplace bullying that incorporates the effects of employees’ individual differences (i.e., entitlement), perceptions of their work environments (i.e., felt accountability), and perceptions of supervisory treatment (i.e., perceptions of abusive supervision) on their tendencies to bully coworkers. The results of mediated moderation analyses that examine responses from two samples of working adults (n Sample 1 = 396; n Sample 2 = 123) support our hypotheses. Specifically, we find evidence of an indirect relationship between entitlement and coworker bullying through perceptions of abusive supervision that is stronger for employees who report lower levels of felt accountability than employees who report higher levels of felt accountability. This study makes important theoretical and practical contributions to abusive supervision research, bullying research, and organizational efforts to promote ethical work environments devoid of interpersonal mistreatment by providing novel insight into how employees’ entitlement and felt accountability combine to influence their tendencies to perceive themselves as victims of abusive supervision and culprits of coworker bullying.

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Acknowledgments

This study was funded by the study authors.

Author information

Correspondence to Jeremy D. Mackey.

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All of the study authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Appendix: Coworker Bullying Scale Items

Appendix: Coworker Bullying Scale Items

  1. 1.

    I sometimes make fun of and tease others about their work.

  2. 2.

    I enjoy hearing gossip and sharing rumors about others.

  3. 3.

    I ignore and exclude some co-workers from activities.

  4. 4.

    I comment to others about some co-workers’ attitudes and private lives.

  5. 5.

    I sometimes suggest that some co-workers should quit their job.

  6. 6.

    I remind co-workers of prior errors and mistakes they have made.

  7. 7.

    I cringe sometimes when co-workers approach me that I don’t like.

  8. 8.

    I have been known to carry out practical jokes on others at work.

  9. 9.

    I sometimes accuse co-workers of things.

  10. 10.

    I tease and use sarcasm with co-workers.

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Mackey, J.D., Brees, J.R., McAllister, C.P. et al. Victim and Culprit? The Effects of Entitlement and Felt Accountability on Perceptions of Abusive Supervision and Perpetration of Workplace Bullying. J Bus Ethics 153, 659–673 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-016-3348-7

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Keywords

  • Bullying
  • Abusive supervision
  • Entitlement
  • Accountability
  • Social exchange
  • Displaced aggression