Insubordination: Validation of a Measure and an Examination of Insubordinate Responses to Unethical Supervisory Treatment

  • Jeremy D. MackeyEmail author
  • Charn P. McAllister
  • Katherine C. Alexander
Original Paper


Research that examines unethical interpersonal treatment has received a great deal of attention from scholars and practitioners in recent years due to the remarkable impact of mistreatment in the workplace. However, the literature is incomplete because we have an inadequate understanding of insubordination, which we define as “subordinates’ disobedient behaviors that intentionally exhibit a defiant refusal of their supervisors’ authority.” In our study, we integrate social exchange theory and the advantageous comparison component of moral disengagement within the integrative model of experiencing and responding to mistreatment at work. Then, we explain why subordinates disengage from moral control as they balance experiencing abusive supervision with perpetrating insubordination within negative supervisor–subordinate social exchange relationships. In Studies 1–4, we validate a five-item measure of insubordination and demonstrate its content, convergent, discriminant, criterion-related, and predictive validity. In Study 5 (n = 287), we demonstrate that there is a positive indirect effect of abusive supervision on insubordination through negative social exchange relationship quality that strengthens for subordinates who perceive higher levels of supervisors’ task performance than others. Overall, our study advances the conversation in the business ethics literature by creating a solid conceptual, empirical, and theoretical foundation for a cohesive program of insubordination research that meaningfully builds on prior findings in unethical interpersonal treatment research.


Insubordination Abusive supervision CWB Mistreatment Ethics 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

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.

Informed Consent

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


  1. Aiken, L., & West, D. (1991). Multiple regression: Testing and interpreting interactions. New York: Sage.Google Scholar
  2. Bandalos, D. L. (2002). The effects of item parceling on goodness-of-fit and parameter estimate bias in structural equation modeling. Structural Equation Modeling, 9(1), 78–102.Google Scholar
  3. Bandura, A. (1990). Selective activation and disengagement of moral control. Journal of Social Issues, 46(1), 27–46.Google Scholar
  4. Bandura, A. (2002). Selective moral disengagement in the exercise of moral agency. Journal of Moral Education, 31(2), 101–119.Google Scholar
  5. Bernerth, J. B., & Aguinis, H. (2016). A critical review and best-practice recommendations for control variable usage. Personnel Psychology, 69(1), 229–283.Google Scholar
  6. Bieler, D. (2019). ‘An extraordinary scene’: Chelsea goalkeeper refuses to leave field as manager fumes. Washington Post. Retrieved from
  7. Blau, P. M. (1964). Exchange and power in social life. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  8. Brown, M. E., Treviño, L. K., & Harrison, D. A. (2005). Ethical leadership: A social learning perspective for construct development and testing. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 97(2), 117–134.Google Scholar
  9. Burton, J. P., Taylor, S. G., & Barber, L. K. (2014). Understanding internal, external, and relational attributions for abusive supervision. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 35(6), 871–891.Google Scholar
  10. Cheung, J. H., Burns, D. K., Sinclair, R. R., & Sliter, M. (2017). Amazon Mechanical Turk in organizational psychology: An evaluation and practical recommendations. Journal of Business and Psychology, 32(4), 347–361.Google Scholar
  11. Cohen, J., Cohen, P., West, S. G., & Aiken, L. S. (2003). Applied multiple regression/correlation analysis for the behavioral sciences (3rd ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  12. Colquitt, J. A., Baer, M. D., Long, D. M., & Halvorsen-Ganepola, M. D. K. (2014). Scale indicators of social exchange relationships: A comparison of relative content validity. Journal of Applied Psychology, 99(4), 599–618.Google Scholar
  13. Colquitt, J. A., Long, D. M., Rodell, J. B., & Halvorsen-Ganepola, M. D. K. (2015). Adding the “in” to justice: A qualitative and quantitative investigation of the differential effects of justice rule adherence and violation. Journal of Applied Psychology, 100(2), 278–297.Google Scholar
  14. Confucius. (1999). The analects of Confucius: A philosophical translation. New York: Ballantine Books.Google Scholar
  15. Cortina, L. M., Magley, V. J., Williams, J. H., & Langhout, R. D. (2001). Incivility in the workplace: Incidence and impact. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 6(1), 64–80.Google Scholar
  16. Cropanzano, R., Anthony, E., Daniels, S., & Hall, A. (2017). Social exchange theory: A critical review with theoretical remedies. Academy of Management Annals, 11(1), 479–516.Google Scholar
  17. Cropanzano, R., & Mitchell, M. (2005). Social exchange theory: An interdisciplinary review. Journal of Management, 31(6), 874–900.Google Scholar
  18. Crowne, D. P., & Marlowe, D. (1960). A new scale of social desirability independent of psychopathology. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 24(4), 349–354.Google Scholar
  19. Decoster, S., Camps, J., Stouten, J., Vandevyvere, L., & Tripp, T. M. (2013). Standing by your organization: The impact of organizational identification and abusive supervision on followers’ perceived cohesion and tendency to gossip. Journal of Business Ethics, 118(3), 623–634.Google Scholar
  20. Desimone, J. A., Harms, P. D., & Desimone, A. J. (2015). Best practice recommendations for data screening. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 36(2), 171–181.Google Scholar
  21. Donnellan, M. B., Oswald, F. L., Baird, B. M., & Lucas, R. E. (2006). The mini-IPIP scales: Tiny-yet-effective measures of the Big Five factors of personality. Psychological Assessment, 18(2), 192–203.Google Scholar
  22. Duffy, M. K., Ganster, D. C., & Pagon, M. (2002). Social undermining in the workplace. Academy of Management Journal, 45(2), 331–351.Google Scholar
  23. Edwards, J. R., & Lambert, L. S. (2007). Methods for integrating moderation and mediation: A general analytical framework using moderated path analysis. Psychological Methods, 12(1), 1–22.Google Scholar
  24. Emerson, R. M. (1976). Social exchange theory. Annual Review of Sociology, 2, 335–362.Google Scholar
  25. Erdogan, B., Bauer, T. N., & Walter, J. (2015). Deeds that help and words that hurt: Helping and gossip as moderators of the relationship between leader-member exchange and advice network centrality. Personnel Psychology, 68(1), 185–214.Google Scholar
  26. Fida, R., Paciello, M., Tramontano, C., Fontaine, R. F., Barbaranelli, C., & Farnese, M. L. (2015). An integrative approach to understanding counterproductive work behavior: The roles of stressors, negative emotions, and moral disengagement. Journal of Business Ethics, 130(1), 131–144.Google Scholar
  27. Fischer, D. G., & Fick, C. (1993). Measuring social desirability: Short forms of the Marlowe-Crowne social desirability scale. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 53(2), 417–424.Google Scholar
  28. Fornell, C., & Larcker, D. F. (1981). Evaluating structural equation models with unobservable variables and measurement error. Journal of Marketing Research, 18(1), 39–50.Google Scholar
  29. Gouldner, A. W. (1960). The norm of reciprocity: A preliminary statement. American Sociological Review, 25(2), 161–178.Google Scholar
  30. Graen, G. B., & Uhl-Bien, M. (1995). Relationship-based approach to leadership: Development of leader member exchange (LMX) theory of leadership over 25 years: Applying a multi-level multi-domain perspective. The Leadership Quarterly, 6(2), 219–247.Google Scholar
  31. Greco, L. M., O’Boyle, E. H., & Walter, S. L. (2015). Absence of malice: A meta-analysis of nonresponse bias in counterproductive work behavior research. Journal of Applied Psychology, 100(1), 75–97.Google Scholar
  32. Groemping, U. (2015). Package ‘relaimpo’. Retrieved from
  33. Hansen, S. D., Alge, B. J., Brown, M., Jackson, C. L., & Dunford, B. B. (2013). Ethical leadership: Assessing the value of a multifoci social exchange perspective. Journal of Business Ethics, 115(3), 435–449.Google Scholar
  34. Hardy, B., & Ford, L. R. (2014). It’s not me, it’s you: Miscomprehension in surveys. Organizational Research Methods, 17(2), 138–162.Google Scholar
  35. Hayes, A. F. (2013). Introduction to mediation, moderation and conditional process analysis: A regression-based approach. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  36. Hinkin, T. R. (1995). A review of scale development practices in the study of organizations. Journal of Management, 21(5), 967–988.Google Scholar
  37. Hinkin, T. R. (1998). A brief tutorial on the development of measures for use in survey questionnaires. Organizational Research Methods, 1(1), 104–121.Google Scholar
  38. Hogan, J., & Hogan, R. (1989). How to measure employee reliability. Journal of Applied Psychology, 74(2), 273–279.Google Scholar
  39. Hu, L., & Bentler, P. M. (1999). Cutoff criteria for fit indexes in covariance structure analysis: Conventional criteria versus new alternatives. Structural Equation Modeling, 6(1), 1–55.Google Scholar
  40. Huang, G., Wellman, N., Ashford, S. J., Lee, C., & Wang, T. (2017). Deviance and exit: The organizational costs of job insecurity and moral disengagement. Journal of Applied Psychology, 102(1), 26–42.Google Scholar
  41. Jonason, P. K., & Webster, G. D. (2010). The Dirty Dozen: A concise measure of the Dark Triad. Psychological Assessment, 22(2), 420–432.Google Scholar
  42. Lawrence, T. B., & Robinson, S. L. (2007). Ain’t misbehavin: Workplace deviance as organizational resistance. Journal of Management, 33(3), 378–394.Google Scholar
  43. Lian, H., Brown, D. J., Ferris, D. L., Liang, L. H., Keeping, L. M., & Morrison, R. (2014a). Abusive supervision and retaliation: A self-control framework. Academy of Management Journal, 57(1), 116–139.Google Scholar
  44. Lian, H., Ferris, D. L., Morrison, R., & Brown, D. J. (2014b). Blame it on the supervisor or the subordinate? Reciprocal relations between abusive supervision and organizational deviance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 99(4), 651–664.Google Scholar
  45. Liao, H., Liu, D., & Loi, R. (2010). Looking at both sides of the social exchange coin: A social cognitive perspective on the joint effects of relationship quality and differentiation on creativity. Academy of Management Journal, 53(5), 1090–1109.Google Scholar
  46. Lyons, B. D., & Scott, B. A. (2012). Integrating social exchange and affective explanations for the receipt of help and harm: A social network approach. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 117(1), 66–79.Google Scholar
  47. Mackey, J. D., Brees, J. R., McAllister, C. P., Zorn, M. L., Martinko, M. J., & Harvey, P. (2018). Victim and culprit? The effects of entitlement and felt accountability on perceptions of abusive supervision and perpetration of workplace bullying. Journal of Business Ethics, 153(3), 659–673.Google Scholar
  48. Mackey, J. D., Frieder, R. E., Brees, J. R., & Martinko, M. J. (2017). Abusive supervision: A meta-analysis and empirical review. Journal of Management, 43(6), 1940–1965.Google Scholar
  49. Mackey, J. D., McAllister, C. P., Maher, L. P., & Wang, G. (2019). Leaders and followers behaving badly: A meta-analytic examination of curvilinear relationships between destructive leadership and followers’ workplace behaviors. Personnel Psychology, 72(1), 3–47.Google Scholar
  50. Martinko, M. J., Harvey, P., Brees, J. R., & Mackey, J. (2013). A review of abusive supervision research. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 34(S1), S120–S137.Google Scholar
  51. Martinko, M. J., Harvey, P., & Mackey, J. D. (2014). Conceptual and empirical confounds in the organizational sciences: An explication and discussion. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 35(8), 1052–1063.Google Scholar
  52. Mitchell, M. S., & Ambrose, M. L. (2007). Abusive supervision and workplace deviance and the moderating effects of negative reciprocity beliefs. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92(4), 1159–1168.Google Scholar
  53. Motowidlo, S. J., Borman, W. C., & Schmit, M. J. (1997). A theory of individual differences in task and contextual performance. Human Performance, 10(2), 71–83.Google Scholar
  54. Nunnally, J. C. (1978). Psychometric theory. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  55. O’Leary, R. (2010). Guerrilla employees: Should managers nurture, tolerate, or terminate them? Public Administration Review, 70(1), 8–19.Google Scholar
  56. Olson-Buchanan, J. B., & Boswell, W. R. (2008). An integrative model of experiencing and responding to mistreatment at work. Academy of Management Review, 33(1), 76–96.Google Scholar
  57. Peng, A. C., Schaubroeck, J. M., & Li, Y. (2014). Social exchange implications of own and coworkers’ experiences of supervisory abuse. Academy of Management Journal, 57(5), 1385–1405.Google Scholar
  58. Podsakoff, P. M., MacKenzie, S. B., Lee, J.-Y., & Podsakoff, N. P. (2003). Common method biases in behavioral research: A critical review of the literature and recommended remedies. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88(5), 879–903.Google Scholar
  59. Preacher, K. J., Rucker, D. D., & Hayes, A. F. (2007). Addressing moderated mediation hypotheses: Theory, methods, and prescriptions. Multivariate Behavioral Research, 42(1), 185–227.Google Scholar
  60. R Core Team. (2017). R: A language and environment for statistical computing. Vienna: R Foundation for Statistical Computing.Google Scholar
  61. Rafferty, A. E., & Restubog, S. L. D. (2011). The influence of abusive supervisors on followers’ organizational citizenship behaviours: The hidden costs of abusive supervision. British Journal of Management, 22(2), 270–285.Google Scholar
  62. Robinson, S. L., & Bennett, R. J. (1995). A typology of deviant workplace behaviors: A multidimensional scaling study. Academy of Management Journal, 38(2), 555–572.Google Scholar
  63. Rupp, D. E., & Cropanzano, R. (2002). The mediating effects of social exchange relationships in predicting workplace outcomes from multifoci organizational justice. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 89(1), 925–946.Google Scholar
  64. Samnani, A. K., Salamon, S. D., & Singh, P. (2014). Negative affect and counterproductive workplace behavior: The moderating role of moral disengagement and gender. Journal of Business Ethics, 119(2), 235–244.Google Scholar
  65. Seers, A. (1989). Team-member exchange quality: A new construct for role-making research. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 43(1), 118–135.Google Scholar
  66. Seers, A., Petty, M. M., & Cashman, J. F. (1995). Team member exchange under team and traditional management: A naturally occurring quasi-experiment. Group & Organization Management, 20(1), 18–38.Google Scholar
  67. Sy, T. (2010). What do you think of followers? Examining the content, structure, and consequences of implicit followership theories. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 113(2), 73–84.Google Scholar
  68. Tepper, B. J. (2000). Consequences of abusive supervision. Academy of Management Journal, 43(2), 178–190.Google Scholar
  69. Tepper, B. J. (2007). Abusive supervision in work organizations: Review, synthesis, and research agenda. Journal of Management, 33(3), 261–289.Google Scholar
  70. Tepper, B. J., Duffy, M. K., & Shaw, J. D. (2001). Personality moderators of the relationships between abusive supervision and subordinates’ resistance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86(5), 974–983.Google Scholar
  71. Tepper, B. J., Mitchell, M. S., Haggard, D. L., Kwan, H. K., & Park, H. (2015). On the exchange of hostility with supervisors: An examination of self-enhancing and self-defeating perspectives. Personnel Psychology, 68(4), 723–758.Google Scholar
  72. Tepper, B. J., Moss, S. E., & Duffy, M. K. (2011). Predictors of abusive supervision: Supervisor perceptions of deep-level dissimilarity, relationship conflict, and subordinate performance. Academy of Management Journal, 54(2), 279–294.Google Scholar
  73. Tepper, B. J., Simon, L., & Park, H. M. (2017). Abusive supervision. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, 4, 123–152.Google Scholar
  74. Tonidandel, S., & LeBreton, J. M. (2015). RWA Web: A free, comprehensive web-based and user-friendly tool for relative weight analyses. Journal of Business and Psychology, 30(2), 207–216.Google Scholar
  75. Ünal, A. F., Warren, D. E., & Chen, C. C. (2012). The normative foundations of unethical supervision in organizations. Journal of Business Ethics, 107(1), 5–19.Google Scholar
  76. Walter, S. L., Seibert, S. E., Goering, D., & O’Boyle, E. H. (2018). A tale of two sample sources: Do results from online panel data and conventional data converge? Journal of Business and Psychology. Scholar
  77. Watson, D., Clark, L. A., & Tellegen, A. (1988). Development and validation of brief measures of positive and negative affect: The PANAS scales. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54(6), 1063–1070.Google Scholar
  78. Williams, L. J., & Anderson, S. E. (1991). Job satisfaction and organizational commitment as predictors of organizational citizenship and in-role behaviors. Journal of Management, 17(3), 601–617.Google Scholar
  79. Williams, L. J., Vandenberg, R. J., & Edwards, J. R. (2009). Structural equation modeling in management research: A guide for improved analysis. The Academy of Management Annals, 3(1), 543–604.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeremy D. Mackey
    • 1
    Email author
  • Charn P. McAllister
    • 2
  • Katherine C. Alexander
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Management, Harbert College of BusinessAuburn UniversityAuburnUSA
  2. 2.D’Amore-McKim School of BusinessNortheastern UniversityBostonUSA

Personalised recommendations