Supervisor Workplace Stress and Abusive Supervision: The Buffering Effect of Exercise

Abstract

Purpose

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.

Design/Methodology/Approach

A matched sample of 98 employed individuals and their direct supervisors was used to test our hypotheses.

Findings

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.

Implications

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.

Originality/Value

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    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.

  2. 2.

    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.

References

  1. Aiken, L. S., & West, S. G. (1991). Multiple regression: Testing and interpreting interactions. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Andersson, L. M., & Pearson, C. M. (1999). Tit for tat? The spiraling effect of incivility in the workplace. Academy of Management Review, 24, 452–471.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Aryee, S., Chen, Z. X., Sun, L., & Debrah, Y. (2007). Antecedents and outcomes of abusive supervision: Test of a trickle-down model. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92, 191–201.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Ashforth, B. (1997). Petty tyranny in organizations: A preliminary examination of antecedents and consequences. Canadian Journal of Administrative Sciences, 14, 126–140.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Austin, V., Shah, S., & Muncer, S. (2005). Teacher stress and coping strategies used to reduce stress. Occupational Therapy International, 12, 63–80.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Baron, R. M., & Kenny, D. A. (1986). The moderator-mediator variable distinction in social psychological research: Conceptual, strategic, and statistical considerations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 1173–1182.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Biddle, S. J. H. (2000). Emotion, mood, and physical activity. In S. J. H. Biddle, K. R. Fox, & S. H. Boutcher (Eds.), Physical activity and psychological well-being (pp. 63–88). London, UK: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Binnewies, C., Sonnentag, S., & Mojza, E. J. (2010). Recovery during the weekend and fluctuations in weekly job performance: A week-level study examining intra-individual relationships. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 83, 419–441.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Brown, J. D. (1991). Staying fit and staying well: Physical fitness as a moderator of life stress. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60, 555–561.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Buckaloo, B. J., Krug, K. S., & Nelson, K. B. (2009). Exercise and low-security inmate: Changes in depression, stress, and anxiety. The Prison Journal, 89, 328–343.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Burton, J. P., & Hoobler, J. M. (2006). Subordinate self-esteem and abusive supervision. Journal of Managerial Issues, 18, 340–355.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Caspersen, C. J., Pereira, M. A., & Curran, K. M. (2000). Changes in physical activity patterns in the United States, by sex and cross-sectional age. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 32, 1601–1609.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. Cooper, C., & Berwick, S. (2001). Factors affecting psychological well-being of three groups of suicide-prone prisoners. Current Psychology, 20, 169–182.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Craike, M. J., Coleman, D., & MacMahon, C. (2010). Direct and buffering effects of physical activity on stress-related depression in mothers of infants. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 32, 23–38.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  15. Crews, D. J., & Landers, D. M. (1987). A meta-analytic review of aerobic fitness and reactivity to psychosocial stressors. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 19, S114–S120.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  16. Crone, D., Heaney, L., & Owens, C. S. (2009). Physical activity and mental health. In L. Dugdill, D. Crone, & R. Murphy (Eds.), Physical activity and health promotion: Evidence-based approaches to practice (pp. 198–217). Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Crone, D., Smith, A., & Gough, B. (2005). ‘I feel totally at one, totally alive, and totally happy’: A psycho-social explanation of the physical activity and mental health relationship. Health Education Research, 20, 600–611.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Dohrenwend, B. S., Dohrenwend, B. P., Dodson, M., & Shrout, P. E. (1984). Symptoms, hassles, social supports, and life events: Problem of confounded measures. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 93, 222–230.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Duffy, M. K., Ganster, D. C., & Pagon, M. (2001). Social undermining and social support in the workplace. Academy of Management Journal, 45, 331–351.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Falkenberg, L. E. (1987). Employee fitness programs: Their impact on the employee and the organization. Academy of Management Review, 12, 511–522.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Fritz, C., & Sonnentag, S. (2005). Recovery, health, and job performance: Effects of weekend experiences. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 10, 187–199.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Gerber, M., Kellmann, M., Hartmann, T., & Pühse, U. (2010). Do exercise and fitness buffer against stress among Swiss police and emergency response officers? Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 11, 286–294.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Gerber, M., & Pühse, U. (2009). Do exercise and fitness protect against stress-induced health complaints? A review of the literature. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health, 37, 801–819.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Harris, K. J., Kacmar, K. M., & Zivnuska, S. (2007). An investigation of abusive supervision as a predictor of performance and the meaning of work as a moderator of the relationship. Leadership Quarterly, 18, 252–263.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Hayes, A. F., & Matthes, J. (2009). Computational procedures for probing interactions in OLS and logistic regression: SPSS and SAS implementations. Behavior Research Methods, 41, 924–936.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Hershcovis, M. S., & Barling, J. (2010). Towards a multi-foci approach to workplace aggression: A meta-analytic review of the outcomes from different perpetrators. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 31, 24–44.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Hobfoll, S. E. (1989). Conservation of resources: A new attempt at conceptualizing stress. American Psychologist, 44, 513–524.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Hogan, E. A., & Overmyer-Day, L. (1994). The psychology of mergers and acquisitions. In C. L. Cooper & I. T. Robertson (Eds.), International review of industrial and organizational psychology (Vol. 9, pp. 247–282). Chichester, UK: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Hoobler, J. M., & Brass, D. J. (2006). Abusive supervision and family undermining as displaced aggression. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91, 1125–1133.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Hoobler, J. M., & Swanberg, J. (2006). The enemy is not us: Unexpected workplace violence trends. Public Personnel Management, 35, 229–246.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Inness, M., Barling, J., & Turner, N. (2005). Understanding supervisor-targeted aggression: A within-person, between-jobs design. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90, 731–739.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Keashly, L., Trott, V., & MacLean, L. M. (1994). Abusive behavior in the workplace: A preliminary investigation. Violence and Victims, 9, 341–357.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  33. Kobasa, S. C., Maddi, S. R., & Puccetti, M. C. (1982). Personality and exercise as buffers in the stress-illness relationships. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 5, 391–404.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Lazarus, R., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. New York, NY: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Levinson, H. (1996). When executives burn out. Harvard Business Review , 74, 152–163.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Little, T. D., Cunningham, W. A., Shahar, G., & Widaman, K. F. (2002). To parcel or not to parcel: Exploring the question and weighing the merits. Structural Equation Modeling, 9, 151–173.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Lovelace, K. J., Manz, C. C., & Alves, J. C. (2007). Work stress and leadership development: The role of self-leadership, shared leadership, physical fitness and flow in managing demands and increasing job control. Human Resource Management Review, 17, 374–387.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Luria, G., & Torjman, A. (2009). Resources and coping with stressful events. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 30, 685–707.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Mackay, G. J., & Neill, J. T. (2010). The effect of ‘green exercise’ on state anxiety and the role of exercise duration, intensity, and greenness: A quasi-experimental study. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 11, 238–245.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Matheny, K. B., Curlette, W. L., Aycock, D. W., Pugh, J. L., & Taylor, H. F. (1987). The coping resources inventory for stress. Atlanta, GA: Health Prisms.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Meijman, T. F., & Mulder, G. (1998). Psychological aspects of workload. In P. J. D. Drenth, H. Thierry, & C. J. de Wolff (Eds.), Handbook of Work and Organizational Psychology (Vol. 2, pp. 5–33). Hove, England: Psychological Press.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Meurs, J. A., & Perrewé, P. L. (2011). Cognitive activation theory of stress: An integrative theoretical approach to work stress. Journal of Management, 37, 1043–1068.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Miller, N., Pedersen, W. C., Earleywine, M., & Pollock, V. E. (2003). A theoretical model of triggered displaced aggression. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 7, 75–97.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. 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, 1159–1168.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Nguyen-Michel, S. T., Unger, J. B., Hamilton, J., & Spruijt-Metz, D. (2006). Associations between physical activity and perceived stress/hassles in college students. Stress and Health, 22, 179–188.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Norris, R., Carroll, D., & Cochrane, R. (1990). The effects of aerobic and anaerobic training on fitness, blood pressure, and psychological stress and well-being. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 34, 367–375.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Parker, D. F., & DeCotiis, T. A. (1983). Organizational determinants of job stress. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 32, 160–177.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Pearson, C. M., & Porath, C. L. (2004). On incivility, its impact, and directions for future research. In R. W. Griffin & A. O’Leary-Kelly (Eds.), The dark side of organizational behavior (pp. 403–425). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

    Google Scholar 

  49. 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, 879–903.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Rafferty, A. E., Restubog, S. L. D., & Jimmieson, N. L. (2010). Losing sleep: Examining the cascading effects of supervisors’ experience of injustice on subordinates’ psychological health. Work and Stress, 24, 36–55.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Rimmele, U., Seiler, R., Marti, B., Wirtz, P. H., Ehlert, U., & Heinrichs, M. (2009). The level of physical activity affects adrenal and cardiovascular reactivity to psychological stress. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 34, 190–198.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Ritvanen, T., Louhevaara, V., Helin, P., Halonen, T., & Hanninen, O. (2007). Effects of aerobic fitness on the physiological stress response at work. International Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health, 20, 1–8.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Sonnentag, S., & Bayer, U. V. (2005). Switching off mentally: Predictors and consequences of psychological detachment from work during off-job time. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 10, 393–414.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Sonnentag, S., Binnewies, C., & Mojza, E. J. (2008). “Did you have a nice evening?” A day-level study on recovery experiences, sleep, and affect. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 674–684.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Sonnentag, S., & Kruel, U. (2006). Psychological detachment from work during off-job time: The role of job stressors, job involvement, and recovery-related self-efficacy. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 15, 197–217.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Sonnentag, S., Kuttler, I., & Fritz, C. (2010). Job stressors, emotional exhaustion, and need for recovery: A multi-source study on the benefits of psychological detachment. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 76, 355–365.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Sonnentag, S., & Zijlstra, F. R. H. (2006). Job characteristics and off-job activities as predictors of need for recovery, well-being, and fatigue. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91, 330–350.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Srivastava, S., Hagtvet, K. A., & Sen, A. K. (1994). A study of role stress and job anxiety among three groups of employees in a private sector organization. Social Science International, 10, 25–30.

    Google Scholar 

  59. Stephens, T., & Caspersen, C. J. (1994). The demography of physical activity. In C. Bouchard, R. J. Shephard, & T. Stephens (Eds.), Physical activity, fitness and health (pp. 204–213). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

    Google Scholar 

  60. Taylor, A. H. (2000). Physical activity, anxiety, and stress. In S. J. H. Biddle, K. R. Fox, & S. H. Boutcher (Eds.), Physical activity and psychological well-being (pp. 10–45). London, UK: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  61. Taylor, M. K., Markham, A. E., Reis, J. P., Padilla, G. A., Potterat, E. G., Drummond, S. P. A., et al. (2008). Physical fitness influences stress reactions to extreme military training. Military Medicine, 173, 738–742.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  62. Tedeschi, J. T., & Norman, N. M. (1985). A social psychological interpretation of displaced aggression. Advances in Group Processes, 2, 29–56.

    Google Scholar 

  63. Tepper, B. J. (2000). Consequences of abusive supervision. Academy of Management Journal, 43, 178–190.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  64. Tepper, B. J. (2007). Abusive supervision in work organizations. Journal of Management, 33, 189–261.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  65. Tepper, B. J., Duffy, M. K., Henle, C. A., & Lambert, L. S. (2006). Procedural injustice, victim precipitation, and abusive supervision. Personnel Psychology, 59, 101–123.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  66. Tepper, B. J., Moss, S. E., & Duffy, M. K. (2011). Predictors of abusive supervision: Supervisor perceptions of deep-level similarity, relationship conflict, and subordinate performance. Academy of Management Journal, 54, 279–294.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  67. Twenge, J. M., & Campbell, W. K. (2003). “Isn’t it fun to get the respect that we’re going to deserve?” Narcissism, social rejection, and aggression. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29, 261–272.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  68. 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, 1063–1070.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  69. Wipfli, B. M., Rethorst, C. D., & Landers, D. M. (2008). The anxiolytic effects of exercise: A meta-analysis of randomized trials and dose-response analysis. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 30, 392–410.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  70. Yoo, H. L., Eisenmann, J. C., & Franke, W. D. (2009). Independent and combined influence of physical activity and perceived stress on the metabolic syndrome in male law enforcement officers. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 51, 46–53.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  71. Zellars, K. L., Tepper, B. J., & Duffy, M. K. (2002). Abusive supervision and subordinates’ organizational citizenship behavior. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 1068–1076.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to James P. Burton.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

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

Download citation

Keywords

  • Abusive supervision
  • Stress
  • Exercise