We examine how supervisor stress is associated with employee-rated abusive supervision. In addition, we test the premise that higher levels of physical exercise by supervisors can buffer the negative effects of stress on their relationship with their subordinates.
A matched sample of 98 employed individuals and their direct supervisors was used to test our hypotheses.
Results suggest that increased levels of supervisor-reported stress are related to the increased experience of employee-rated abusive supervision. We also find that the relationship between supervisor stress and abusive behavior can be diminished when supervisors engage in moderate levels of physical exercise.
While the current economic conditions and a host of other trying workplace factors mean that supervisors are likely to experience workplace stress, we found evidence that they do not necessarily have to transfer these frustrations onto those they supervise. Our study supports a link between supervisor stress and employee perceptions of abusive supervision, but this is a link that can be loosened if supervisors engage in moderate levels of physical exercise.
The results of this study add to the modest number of antecedents to abusive supervision that have been discovered in existing research. In addition, this is the first study to examine how exercise can buffer the relationship between supervisor stress and employee perceptions of abusive supervision.
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Please note that all of the results reported in this paper are similar without the use of the control variables included in the regression equations.
When conducting the analyses using the full sample (i.e., including employees who have worked for their supervisor for less than 2 months), the results for hypothesis 2 are almost identical. However, hypothesis 1 is not supported. The difference in these results could be due to the fact that newer employees have not had the opportunity to experience abusive supervision; the supervisors of new employees may be “taking it easy” on their new employees; or there may be a “grace” period where employees give their new supervisor the benefit of the doubt even when they exhibit negative behaviors which would be considered later to be abusive.
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Burton, J.P., Hoobler, J.M. & Scheuer, M.L. Supervisor Workplace Stress and Abusive Supervision: The Buffering Effect of Exercise. J Bus Psychol 27, 271–279 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10869-011-9255-0
- Abusive supervision