J Bus Ethics (2013) 118:623–634
DOI 10.1007/s10551-012-1612-z

Standing by Your Organization: The Impact of Organizational...
624

nonverbal behaviors, excluding physical contact.’’ Abusive
supervisors are known to intimidate and humiliate, use
der...
Standing by Your Organization

might result in renewed interpersonal mistreatment by the
other party, especially when the ...
626

The Buffering Role of Organizational Identification
According to Ashforth and Mael (1989), organizational
identificatio...
Standing by Your Organization

specific code allowing for anonymous participation. Participants were from a variety of diff...
628

S. Decoster et al.

revealed it to be related to employees’ organizational identification (Hall et al. 1970; Riketta 2...
Standing by Your Organization

629

Table 2 Results of the hierarchical regression analyses for the
moderating effect of o...
630

and Van Schie 2000). It seems that this process functions as
a buffer for employees’ negative reactions to the abusiv...
Standing by Your Organization

abusive supervisor. In the course of time, this could result in
significant costs for the em...
632
Ashforth, B. E. & Mael, F. (1989). Social identity theory and the
organization. The Academy of Management Review, 14, ...
Standing by Your Organization
comprehensive measure for assessing job design and the nature
of work. Journal of Applied Ps...
634
Wu, C., Neubert, M. J., & Yi, X. (2007). Transformational leadership,
cohesion perceptions, and employee cynicism abou...
Copyright of Journal of Business Ethics is the property of Springer Science & Business Media B.V.
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  1. 1. J Bus Ethics (2013) 118:623–634 DOI 10.1007/s10551-012-1612-z Standing by Your Organization: The Impact of Organizational Identification and Abusive Supervision on Followers’ Perceived Cohesion and Tendency to Gossip Stijn Decoster • Jeroen Camps • Jeroen Stouten Lore Vandevyvere • Thomas M. Tripp • Received: 16 January 2012 / Accepted: 28 December 2012 / Published online: 8 January 2013 Ó Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013 Abstract Abusive supervision has been shown to have significant negative consequences for employees’ wellbeing, attitudes, and behavior. However, despite the devastating impact, it might well be that employees do not always react negatively toward a leader’s abusive behavior. In the present study, we show that employees’ organizational identification and abusive supervision interact for employees’ perceived cohesion with their work group and their tendency to gossip about their leader. Employees confronted with a highly abusive supervisor had a stronger perceived cohesion and engaged in less gossiping behavior when they identified more strongly with their organization. Our findings illustrate that organizational identification functions as a buffer for those confronted with an abusive supervisor. Keywords Abusive supervision Á Organizational identification Á Cohesion Á Gossip Á Rumor A fact of organizational life is that leaders do not always act in a responsible and ethical manner (e.g., De Cremer 2003; Samuelson and Messick 1995). That is, supervisors have shown to use abusive language toward their subordinates, humiliate them in front of others, intimidate or threaten them, withhold information from them, or behave S. Decoster (&) Á J. Camps Á J. Stouten Á L. Vandevyvere Department of Psychology, University of Leuven, Tiensestraat 102, Box 3725, 3000 Leuven, Belgium e-mail: stijn.decoster@ppw.kuleuven.be; stijn.decoster@psy.kuleuven.be T. M. Tripp Washington State University, 14204 NE Salmon Creek Avenue, Vancouver, WA, USA aggressively (Bies and Tripp 1998; Zellars et al. 2002). Researchers revealed that abusive supervision has a negative impact on employees’ well-being, satisfaction, commitment, and performance (Bamberger and Bacharach 2006; Hornstein 1996; Mitchell and Ambrose 2007; Tepper 2000, 2007; Tepper et al. 2004, 2001; Zellars et al. 2002). However, it may well be that employees not always react negatively to their abusive supervisor. That is, despite the severity of leaders’ abusive behavior, followers do not always turn to disapproval or counteractions (Stouten and Tripp 2009). Here, we will explore the buffering role of organizational identification (i.e., the psychologic attachment that emerges when members adopt the critical characteristics of the organization as defining characteristics of themselves; see Dutton et al. 1994) for employees who are confronted with an abusive supervisor. More specifically, since abusive supervision has been found to have a negative impact on employees’ loyalty to their work group (Mitchell and Ambrose 2007), we focus on employees’ perceived cohesion with their work group. Further, as a result of an abusive supervisor, we also examine followers’ retaliatory reactions (i.e., reactions in order to get even with their supervisor), more specifically employees’ tendency to gossip about their leader. In sum, we propose that when confronted with an abusive supervisor, employees who identify with their organization are more likely to feel part of their work group and will be less likely to gossip about their supervisor. Below, we will discuss this rationale in greater detail. Abusive Supervision Tepper (2000, p. 178) defines abusive supervision as ‘‘subordinates’ perceptions of the extent to which supervisors engage in the sustained display of hostile verbal and 123
  2. 2. 624 nonverbal behaviors, excluding physical contact.’’ Abusive supervisors are known to intimidate and humiliate, use derogatory names, shout, and ridicule their employees. Estimates suggest that more than 13 % of working people in the United States become targets of abusive supervision or non-physical hostility perpetrated by employees’ immediate superiors (Schat et al. 2006). These consequences translate into annual losses of an estimated $23.8 billion in increased health care costs, workplace withdrawal, and lost productivity (Tepper et al. 2009). During the past decade, a growing body of literature has focused on the negative consequences of abusive supervision. For example, abusive supervision has been found to be negatively related to organizational outcomes such as affective commitment, organizational citizenship behaviors, job and life satisfaction, and self-efficacy (Tepper 2000, 2007; Zellars et al. 2002). Further, abusive supervision has been found to be positively related to negative outcomes, for example, counterproductive behaviors, turnover intentions, work-family conflict, psychologic distress, as well as somatic health complaints (Duffy et al. 2002; Tepper 2000; Zellars et al. 2002). Moreover, abusive supervision is positively related to supervisor-directed deviance (e.g., gossiping about or acting impolite toward one’s supervisor) as well as organizational and interpersonal deviance (Mayer et al. 2012; Mitchell and Ambrose 2007). In sum, in the event of an abusive supervisor, employees not only feel less connected to their leader but also feel less connected to their organization, their colleagues, and their job (cf. perceived cohesion). S. Decoster et al. organizational variable since high levels of perceived cohesion have a positive effect on organizational outcomes, whereas low levels of cohesion can hurt organizations. Essential for group cohesion to exist, members of the group have to work together and thus maintain some form of interpersonal relationship (Bass 1960; Stogdill 1972). As one such important interpersonal relationship concerns the relationship between employees and their leader, the way a leader treats his or her employees will affect employees’ perceived cohesion (Wu et al. 2007). As abusive supervision can be regarded as an extreme example of negative interpersonal behavior, employees will suffer from their leaders’ mistreatment, resulting in decreased perceived cohesion. In order to explain the relationship between abusive supervision and perceived cohesion, we draw on social exchange theory (Blau 1964; Cropanzano and Mitchell 2005), which states that individuals are sensitive to valued outcomes they receive and that they are motivated to reciprocate these outcomes. If followers perceive to receive valued outcomes, they may reciprocate these outcomes by feeling more cohesive with their team. In contrast, when followers’ outcomes are negative, they are expected to reciprocate in a negative way in order to restore the balance. Indeed, previous research pointed out that abusive supervision has a negative impact on the relationships coworkers have with each other. For example, employees who are confronted with an abusive supervisor engage in less organizational citizenship behaviors toward their coworkers (Aryee et al. 2007; Xu et al. 2012) and display more negative behavior toward coworkers of their work group (Mitchell and Ambrose 2007). Abusive Supervision and Employees’ Perceived Cohesion Perceived cohesion describes the individual’s perception of one’s relationship with and the resulting force to remain in his or her group (Bollen and Hoyle 1990). Bollen and Hoyle (1990, p. 482) propose that perceived cohesion can be defined as ‘‘the extent to which individual group members feel ‘stuck to’, or a part of, particular social groups.’’ Hence, their formal definition states that ‘‘perceived cohesion encompasses an individual’s sense of belonging to a particular group and his or her feelings of morale associated with membership in the group.’’ Perceived cohesion is a valuable good for organizations since it has a beneficial impact on a wide range of group-related and organizational outcomes. For example, it has been associated with lower turnover and absenteeism (Price and Mueller 1981; Shader et al. 2001), enhanced levels of organizational commitment and job satisfaction (Wech et al. 1998), and increased performance (Mullen and Copper 1994). In sum, perceived cohesion is an important 123 Abusive Supervision and Employees’ Tendency to Gossip When confronted with an abusive supervisor, drawing on social exchange theory, followers reciprocate in a negative way, such as engaging in gossiping behavior. This is in line with previous research that pointed out that when employees feel they are treated in a negative way (e.g., being intimidated, humiliated, ridiculed, or being yelled at), they react with deviant behaviors to get back at the one who mistreated them (Bennett and Robinson 2003; Robinson and Greenberg 1998). Indeed, employees tend to react to their leader’s abusive behavior by engaging in supervisor-directed deviance in order to harm their supervisor or to ‘‘get even’’ (Dupre et al. 2006; Inness et al. 2005; Mitchell and Ambrose 2007; Tepper et al. 2009; Thau and Mitchell 2010). Although several studies have provided evidence for this line of reasoning, reacting to the offender is often not without danger for oneself as this
  3. 3. Standing by Your Organization might result in renewed interpersonal mistreatment by the other party, especially when the other party has an elevated level of power (Aquino et al. 2001; Bies and Tripp 1996). For example, research indicates that employees are less likely to react when there exists a high power distance between themselves and the person who engages in abusive supervisory behavior (Wang et al. 2012). Given the hierarchical nature of the relationship between an employee and his/her direct supervisor, turning to overt reactions is likely to be a costly action for oneself. As a result, employees will opt for behavior that involves smaller potential costs, but still provides them with an opportunity to ‘‘get even,’’ such as gossip (Archer and Coyne 2005). Gossip can be described as ‘‘verbal or written communication that regards personal matters of a third party’’ (Nevo et al. 1993, p. 975) that people use to gain information about one’s social environment and to manipulate others with the goal to raise one’s own status (Rosnow 1977). Traditionally, gossip is seen as a socially undesirable activity with negative effects for both the person that is the target of gossip (Noon and Delbridge 1993) and one’s organization as it can lower morale and productivity (Baker and Jones 1996; DiFonzo and Bordia 2000; DiFonzo et al. 1994). However, more recent studies pointed out that gossip can promote the existence of groups because it often is a response to the observation of antisocial behavior (Feinberg et al. 2012). That is, when possible transgressors who behave in a self-interested way are observed, the gossiper can warn the other group members about this behavior by sharing information about these transgressors. In this way, gossip can be viewed as an efficient tool of punishment in order to constrain future self-serving behavior (Beersma and Van Kleef 2011). The Buffering Role of Organizational Identification for Employees who are Confronted with an Abusive Supervisor As discussed above, when confronted with an abusive supervisor, followers tend to react in a negative way (Tepper 2000; Zellars et al. 2002), for example by showing deviant behavior toward the leader and the organization (Duffy et al. 2002; Mitchell and Ambrose 2007). Recently, however, it has been argued that, depending on the situation, followers’ reactions may not always be negative (Stouten et al. 2005; Stouten and Tripp 2009). For example, leaders’ behavior is often tolerated because leaders have an important influence in promotion procedures, evaluations, and how employees are allowed to carry out their work (Camps et al. 2012; Hogan et al. 1994; Yukl 1998). Stouten and Tripp (2009) argued that leaders and followers are held against different rules. Consequently, leaders’ abusive behavior may not always result in 625 disapproval or counteractions. Often, employees consider that they are not in a position to help others or themselves by responding with overt behavior toward the leader (Frost 2004; Lord 1998). These findings are consistent with the argument that employees generally feel that they cannot raise an issue of concern to their bosses (Uhl-Bien and Carsten 2007). We build upon this line of research and argue that there are boundary conditions on the negative effects of abusive supervision on employee outcomes. Exploring such boundary conditions will allow for understanding when and thus why employees may react toward an abusive supervisor. In this study, we argue that the extent to which employees identify with their organization plays an integral role in how employees will react to an abusive supervisor. More specifically, in situations where followers are confronted with an abusive supervisor, we expect that employees who identify with their organization are more likely to feel part of their work group (i.e., perceived cohesion) and will be less likely to gossip about their supervisor. Organizational Identification and Social Identity Theory Mael and Ashforth (1992, p. 109) defined organizational identification as ‘‘a perceived oneness with an organization and the experience of the organization’s successes and failures as one’s own.’’ The conceptualization of organizational identification is rooted in social identity theory (Tajfel 1978; Tajfel and Turner 1979; Turner 1982). Tajfel (1978, p. 67) defined social identity as ‘‘that part of an individual’s self-concept which derives from his knowledge of his or her membership of a social group [or groups] together with the value and emotional significance attached to that membership.’’ According to social identity theory (Tajfel 1978; Tajfel and Turner 1979), individuals are striving toward a positive self-image, which is partly based not only on their personal identity (e.g., I am reliable, I am creative) but also on their social identity (e.g., I am a member of the athletics team X, I am an employee of organization Y), which they derive from social groups they are a member of. Because being part of a group has an impact on one’s self-image, group members usually evaluate their groups positively and especially more positive than other groups (Tajfel 1978). As a result, their group and their evaluation of it become more important for their self-image. The more positive an employee assesses one’s organization, the more important one’s organization becomes for his or her self-image. Thus, according to Dutton et al. (1994, p. 242), ‘‘the strength of a member’s organizational identification reflects the degree to which the content of the member’s self-concept is tied to his or her organizational membership.’’ 123
  4. 4. 626 The Buffering Role of Organizational Identification According to Ashforth and Mael (1989), organizational identification has a supportive and positive influence on employees’ satisfaction and the effectiveness of the organization. For example, it increases long-term commitment and support, physical well-being, job satisfaction, and motivation (Mael and Ashforth 1992; Van Dick and Wagner 2002). Organizational identification also has a positive effect on cooperative and organizational citizenship behaviors and on actual performance (Dukerich et al. 2002; Stellmachter et al. 2002, 2003). Moreover, organizational identification is negatively related to turnover intentions (Van Knippenberg and Van Schie 2000). Hence, organizational identification has a positive influence in such a way that employees who identify with their organization are likely to support their organization both in good and in bad times (Ashforth and Mael 1989; Dukerich et al. 2002; Mael and Ashforth 1992; Stellmachter et al. 2002, 2003; Van Dick et al. 2006; Van Dick and Wagner 2002; Van Knippenberg et al. 2007; Van Knippenberg and Van Schie 2000). For example, Ashforth and Mael (1989, p. 28) stated that ‘‘identification provides a mechanism whereby an individual can continue to believe in the integrity of his or her organization despite wrongdoing by senior management.’’ In fact, research supports this assumption that organizational identification goes a long way in employees’ reliance in difficult situations. For example, in organizations in transition, employees with a high (pre-merger) organizational identification have less turnover intentions and negative feelings as well as higher satisfaction and more citizenship behaviors (Van Dick et al. 2006). Moreover, organizational identification buffers the negative impact of low organizational support on deviant behavior, such as employees’ absenteeism and turnover intentions (Van Knippenberg et al. 2007). Given that employees who identify with the organization are likely to support their company in good and bad times, we build on this research by arguing that organizational identification also will protect employees against the highly negative effects of abusive supervision. More specifically, when confronted with an abusive supervisor, employees who identify with their organization are more likely to feel connected (i.e., perceived cohesion) with their colleagues and will be less likely to gossip about their supervisor. Perceived Cohesion and Organizational Identification Drawing on social identity theory, the more important one’s organization becomes for one’s self-image, the stronger one’s cohesion with the organizational members will be (Ashforth and Mael 1989; Tajfel 1978; Tajfel and Turner 123 S. Decoster et al. 1979; Turner 1982, 1984). Moreover, social-categorization theory (Turner 1985; Turner et al. 1987) states that when group members perceive themselves as part of a particular social category (e.g., their organization), they minimize the differences within that social category. Given the buffering role of organizational identification (Lipponen et al. 2011) and the negative impact abusive supervision will have on perceived cohesion (Wu et al. 2007), we expect that Hypothesis 1 Organizational identification and abusive supervision interact with regard to perceived cohesion. More specifically, we expect that in the presence of an abusive supervisor, employees’ perceived cohesion will be stronger if their organizational identification is high rather than low. Tendency to Gossip and Organizational Identification Gossiping behavior has been shown to result in detrimental consequences not only for the target but also for the organization as a whole (Baker and Jones 1996; DiFonzo et al. 1994; DiFonzo and Bordia 2000). As discussed above, even though employees will be inclined to engage in (covert) reactions (such as gossiping) in the situation of an abusive supervisor, employees who value their organization (i.e., identify with their organization) will be less inclined to engage in gossip as they try to protect the organization’s image from potential harmful consequences. Taken together, we expect that Hypothesis 2 Organizational identification and abusive supervision interact with regard to employees’ tendency to gossip. More specifically, we expect that employees facing an abusive supervisor will gossip less if their organizational identification is high rather than low. Method Participants and Procedure We recruited participants using a snowball sampling procedure (e.g., Mayer et al. 2009; Morgeson and Humphrey 2006). Undergraduate students were contacted by the researchers and were asked to invite participants to complete the study (as partial fulfillment of an undergraduate course). Two hundred twenty-four employees were invited to voluntarily take part in a study concerning the wellbeing of people in organizations. Paper versions were handed out to employees from organizations in Flanders, Belgium. Employees were asked to hand deliver the supervisor’s survey and all surveys were returned in sealed envelopes to the university in order to assure anonymity. Employees were matched with their supervisor using a
  5. 5. Standing by Your Organization specific code allowing for anonymous participation. Participants were from a variety of different organizations, including telecommunication, health care, manufacturing, government, technology, and financial organizations. The surveys that were returned resulted in hundred thirty-four dyads of employees and their matched direct supervisors, yielding an overall response rate of 59.8 %. Of the employees’ sample, 40.3 % were male. The mean age was 38.89 years (range 20–58 years; SD = 10.86). Seventytwo percent of the employees worked fulltime, 47 % of employees only completed high school, and 52.2 % obtained a college degree. Employees had an average organizational tenure of 13.15 years (SD = 11.52) and had an average team size of 12 workers (SD = 14.03). Of the supervisors’ sample, 43.1 % were male and the mean age was 47 years (range 26–58 years; SD = 7.57). Ninety percent of the supervisors worked fulltime, 31.4 % of supervisors only completed high school, and 68.6 % obtained a college degree. On average supervisors’ job tenure amounted to 9 years (SD = 5.85) and they supervised a team of on average 15 employees (SD = 17.31). Measures Employees completed measures of abusive supervision, perceived cohesion, and organizational identification. Supervisors reported subordinates’ tendency to gossip. All items were completed on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (never/strongly disagree) to 5 (very often/strongly agree). Abusive Supervision Abusive supervision was assessed with Tepper’s (2000) 15-item abusive supervision scale. Example items are ‘‘my supervisor ridicules me’’ and ‘‘my supervisor blames me to save himself/herself embarrassment’’ (Cronbach’s a = .94). 627 scale refers to school groups, we adapted the scale to the purpose of this study by altering the reference point (Chin et al. 1999). That is, employees read that these six items referred to their work group (i.e., employees working for the same supervisor) and were asked to respond to the questions with this in mind. Example items are ‘‘I feel that I belong to this group,’’ ‘‘I am happy to be part of this group,’’ and ‘‘this group is one of the best’’ (Cronbach’s a = .96). Tendency to Gossip Employees’ tendency to gossip was measured with eight items of the 20-item Tendency to Gossip Scale (Nevo et al. 1993). We opted to collect this data from the supervisors rather than from their employees. As discussed earlier, gossip might result in harmful consequences for the target of the gossiping behavior such as feelings of social isolation (see Elias 1994; Soeters and van Iterson 2002). Although it can be argued that a leader is not always aware of the extent to which his/her employees gossip about him or her, we believe that leaders do have such information at hand (see Grosser et al. 2010). That is, gossip is widely used: It is expected to constitute 65 % of all spoken communication (Dunbar 2004). Indeed, Grosser et al. (2010) showed that supervisors are aware of follower gossiping as they punish gossipers with low-performance ratings. Moreover, because people are more sensitive to perceptions of the environment rather than the actual environment itself (Lewin 1951), we focus on supervisor perceptions of gossip rather than actual gossip. Indeed, gossip is more likely to have a negative influence and impact on supervisors if they perceive gossip to exist. For this measure, only items that were relevant for the work situation were chosen. Sample items are ‘‘my subordinates like to talk about my clothes and appearance with their coworkers,’’ ‘‘my subordinates like to talk about the problems I encounter at work,’’ and ‘‘my subordinates have the tendency to gossip about me’’ (Cronbach’s a = .79). Organizational Identification Employees’ organizational identification was assessed with Mael and Ashforth’s (1992) six-item organizational identification scale. Example items are ‘‘when someone criticizes my organization, it feels like a personal insult’’ and ‘‘the organization’s successes are my successes’’ (Cronbach’s a = .81). Perceived Cohesion Perceived cohesion was measured with Bollen and Hoyle’s (1990) six-item perceived cohesion scale. As the original Control Variables Based on previous research, we controlled for several factors that have been shown to be related to one (or more) of the variables incorporated in our hypotheses. More specifically, we controlled for employees’ age as it has been shown to be related to both organizational identification (Riketta 2005) and deviant behavior (Aquino and Douglas 2003). We also controlled for employees’ gender as gender is related to both organizational identification (Riketta 2005) and interpersonal deviance (Henle et al. 2005). Finally, we controlled for employees’ organizational tenure as previous research 123
  6. 6. 628 S. Decoster et al. revealed it to be related to employees’ organizational identification (Hall et al. 1970; Riketta 2005) and perceived cohesion (Gilbert and Tang 1998). gossip (Table 2). More important, the interaction between abusive supervision and organizational identification was significant (Fig. 2). Table 2 presents the results of the regression analyses. Simple slopes analyses showed that in the presence of an abusive supervisor, organizational identification was negatively related to employees’ tendency to gossip (b = -.14, pone-tailed .05). However, this relationship was not significant when employees perceived their supervisor as being low on abusive supervision (b = .14, pone-tailed = .07). These findings provide support for Hypothesis 2. Results All data were analyzed by conducting stepwise, hierarchical regression analyses. In step 1 of the regression analyses, we entered the demographic variables age, gender (0 = female, 1 = male), and organizational tenure. In step 2, we entered abusive supervision and organizational identification. In step 3, we predicted the interactive relationship between abusive supervision and organizational identification for the dependent variables of interest, perceived cohesion, and tendency to gossip. The independent variables abusive supervision and organizational identification were centered to avoid multicollinearity (Aiken and West 1991). Table 1 presents the descriptive statistics and intercorrelations. Discussion Research recently revealed that abusive supervision has a significant negative impact on the attitudes, well-being, and behavior of employees (e.g., Duffy et al. 2002; Mitchell and Ambrose 2007; Zellars et al. 2002). Here, we argued that employees will not necessarily react negatively toward an abusive supervisor. That is, we reasoned that there are boundary conditions to the reactions of employees toward an abusive supervisor. More specifically, it was put forward that as employees identify with their organization, they are expected to show weaker negative reactions to an abusive supervisor in terms of perceptions of cohesion and gossiping since organizational identification has a buffering effect on followers’ negative reactions to abusive supervision. Consistent with Hypothesis 1, employees’ organizational identification is particularly important for how employees react to an abusive supervisor with regard to perceived cohesion. Employees confronted with an abusive supervisor had a stronger perceived cohesion to their work group when their organizational identification was high rather than low. Similarly, when confronted with an abusive supervisor, employees’ organizational identification could be shown to buffer employees’ tendency to gossip about their leader. That is, when a leader was considered as abusive by his/her employees, (s)he perceived employees to gossip less when organizational identification was high versus low. Consequently, results also confirmed Hypothesis 2. Therefore, we argue that organizational identification functions as a Perceived Cohesion First of all, regression analysis revealed a significant negative relationship between abusive supervision and perceived cohesion (Table 2). More important, the interaction between abusive supervision and organizational identification was significant (Fig. 1). Simple slopes analyses (Aiken and West 1991) showed that for employees who were confronted with an abusive supervisor, organizational identification was positively related to employees’ perceived cohesion (b = .34, pone-tailed .01). However, the relationship between organizational identification and perceived cohesion was not significant when employees perceived their supervisor as being low on abusive supervision (b = .01, ponetailed = .49). This provides support for Hypothesis 1. Tendency to Gossip Regression analysis revealed no significant negative relationship between abusive supervision and tendency to Table 1 Means, standard deviations, and intercorrelations between variables M 1. Gender SD – 1. 2. 3. 4. – 2. Age 123 11.52 .03 1.38 0.55 -.07 .06 5. Organizational identification * p .05.; ** p .001 10.86 13.15 4. Abusive supervision N = 134 38.89 3. Organizational tenure 3.52 0.61 .10 .07 .05 6. Perceived cohesion 4.21 0.77 .08 -.07 -.03 -.39** 7. Tendency to gossip 2.46 0.46 .00 .06 -.05 -.05 5. 6. -.08 .79** .08 -.12 .20* -.02 .05
  7. 7. Standing by Your Organization 629 Table 2 Results of the hierarchical regression analyses for the moderating effect of organizational identity (N = 134) Perceived cohesion Tendency to gossip Step 2 Step 2 Step 3 Step 3 Gender .03 .03 .00 .00 Age .14 .-14 .14 .14 .11 .10 -.10 -.10 -.05 -.08 -.03 -.00 Organizational tenure Abusive supervision Organizational identity -.37*** -.35*** .15 .14 Abusive supervision 9 Organizational identity DR2 .16* -.22* .17*** .03* .00 .05* R2 .19 .21 .01 .06 Values are standardized regression weights * p .05.; ** p .01.; *** p .001 Fig. 2 Interaction between abusive supervision and organizational identification on tendency to gossip Fig. 1 Interaction between abusive supervision and organizational identification on perceived cohesion protecting mechanism for the negative consequences of abusive supervision. Below, we will discuss these findings in greater detail. Theoretic Implications We added to the growing body of research on abusive supervision that showed the negative consequences of abusive supervision on attitudes, well-being, and behavior of employees (Duffy et al. 2002; Mitchell and Ambrose 2007; Tepper 2000, 2007; Zellars et al. 2002). Previous research showed that employees who identify with their organization experience more positive outcomes concerning attitudes, well-being, and behaviors, even in difficult and personal enduring contexts (Ashforth and Mael 1989; Dukerich et al. 2002; Mael and Ashforth 1992; Stellmacher et al. 2003; Van Dick et al. 2006; Van Dick and Wagner 2002; Van Knippenberg et al. 2007; Van Knippenberg and Van Schie 2000). Here, we showed that employees who identify with their organization showed weaker negative reactions when they were confronted with an abusive supervisor. Social identity research argues that group members strive toward a positive self-image which is partly derived from one’s social groups (Tajfel 1978; Tajfel and Turner 1979; Turner 1982). In this study, we examined this by means of employees who consider themselves part of their organization—organizational identification. Because of the link between employees’ self-image and their organizational membership, employees evaluate their organization positively, even more so than they perceive other organizations (Tajfel 1978). As a result, employees with strong organizational identification support their organization in many ways. Hence, organizational identification positively influences employees’ perceptions and outcomes with regard to their organization (Ashforth and Mael 1989; Dukerich et al. 2002; Mael and Ashforth 1992; Stellmacher et al. 2003; Van Dick and Wagner 2002; Van Knippenberg 123
  8. 8. 630 and Van Schie 2000). It seems that this process functions as a buffer for employees’ negative reactions to the abusive behavior of their supervisor since employees with high organizational identification showed weaker negative reactions than when organizational identification was low. This study contributed to research on organizational identification by confirming that organizational identification has an impact on employees not only in good times but also in bad times (Ashforth and Mael 1989; Van Dick et al. 2006; Van Knippenberg et al. 2007). We showed that subordinates’ high organizational identification protects them for specific negative consequences (i.e., lower perceived cohesion and higher gossip perceptions) of abusive supervision. Hence, in the most enduring circumstances (such as verbal abuse or intimidation), employees who identified with a larger goal of the organization reacted in a more positive way, i.e., they had a higher perceived cohesion and they had a lower tendency gossip. Future research on organizational identification and abusive supervision could look into the impact of work group or departmental identification on the negative effects of abusive supervision. According to Van Knippenberg and Van Schie (2000), departmental or work group identification is often stronger than organizational identification. Moreover, work group or departmental identification has a stronger positive influence on attitudes and behaviors (e.g., job satisfaction, turnover intentions, job involvement, and job motivation) than organizational identification (Van Knippenberg and Van Schie 2000). These authors draw their statements from social identity theory and self-categorization theory (Tajfel 1978; Tajfel and Turner 1982; Turner 1985; Turner et al. 1987), which argues that a particular social categorization (e.g., work group or department) becomes more salient than other categorizations (e.g., the larger organization) if that particular social categorization is relatively accessible, shows a comparative fit with oneself, and positively distinguishes oneself from other categorizations. First of all, people interact on a daily basis with their work groups and their department, which makes these subgroups highly accessible. Secondly, work groups and departments generally consist of more similar people than the larger organization (e.g., work group or department members generally have the same educational background). Finally, identifying with a smaller group (e.g., work group or department) renders people more distinctiveness than identifying with larger groups (e.g., the organization as a whole). Hence, it might well be that departmental identification can be an even stronger buffer for employees’ negative consequences of abusive supervision. These findings also contributed to the present theoretic research on abusive supervision. Existing research on abusive supervision focused primarily on the negative consequences these leaders induce for their employees. Our study 123 S. Decoster et al. contributed to those few studies that investigated the boundary conditions of employees’ reactions to abusive supervision (Bamberger and Bacharach 2006; Harvey et al. 2007; Stouten et al. 2005; Stouten and Tripp 2009; Tepper 2007). For example, Tepper (2000) revealed that the impact of abusive supervision on job satisfaction and depression was less profound when employees’ perceived job mobility was high. Also, Harvey et al. (2007) showed that if employees report high levels of ingratiation behavior and positive affect, abusive supervision is less strongly related to job tension, emotional exhaustion, and turnover intention. Similarly, the relationship between abusive supervision and alcohol abuse was less strong for employees who were high in conscientiousness and agreeableness (Bamberger and Bacharach 2006). Our study expands this line of work by focusing on an institutional component, which is organizational identification. This study showed that organizational identification has an influence on employees’ reactions to abusive supervisory behavior. More specifically, we provided evidence that employees who identify with their organization showed weaker negative reactions to the abusive behavior of their supervisors. Future leadership research could focus more on disclosing different boundary conditions that determine employees’ reactions to an abusive supervisor. Future research should focus not only on the short-term but also on the long-term effects of these boundary conditions. For example, it might well be that employees with strong organizational identification (or employees who are high in conscientiousness and agreeableness) respond more negatively over time when the abusive behavior of the leaders remains.1 That is, followers with strong organizational identification might be more sensitive to the fact that no steps have been taken to address the leader’s abuse. Practical Implications Generally, employees consider supervisors who behave disrespectful and abusive as a burden. However, employees do not always react or speak up to their supervisor, even if (s)he behaves abusively (Tepper 2007). Employees who identify themselves with their organization, identify themselves with the organization’s goals, as being part of their own self-image and therefore tend to show less negative consequences when confronted with an abusive supervisor. Indeed, organizational identification seems to work as a buffer on followers’ negative reactions to abusive supervision. However, newcomers in the organization might be deterred by the presence of abusive supervisors because they do not yet identify with the organization or their organizational identification is just not strong enough to endure an 1 We would like to thank an anonymous reviewer for this suggestion.
  9. 9. Standing by Your Organization abusive supervisor. In the course of time, this could result in significant costs for the employees and the organization, given the significance of abusive supervision on employees’ work experience. Therefore, organizations should try to insure a sense of belongingness and provide a solid basis for increasing employees’ organizational identity. Employees’ organizational identification can be improved by, for example, employing clear communication about the decisions and the procedures in the organization (Van Dick et al. 2006) or by applying identification-enhancing interventions (Van Knippenberg and Van Schie 2000). On the other hand, this buffering effect of organizational identification may give abusive supervisors a free pass to act in ways that are inappropriate since such leaders might argue that followers’ reactions will be less severe. In such a scenario, no efforts are being made toward the creation of a non-abusive environment. Moreover, it might well be that, despite employees’ strong organizational identification, abusive supervision still leads to negative consequences (e.g., somatic health complaints, absenteeism, and turnover intentions) for employees in the long run. Therefore, organizations should try to prevent the emergence or the existence of abusive supervision, for example, by fostering a culture that is incompatible with abusive supervision, by implementing 360-degree feedback programs, by implementing zero-tolerance policies, or by training employees to respond in an appropriate way to abusive supervision (Tepper 2007; Tepper et al. 2009). Strengths and Limitations This study was conducted by using a multi-source survey where both employees’ responses and those of their supervisors were assessed. Such a multi-source design has been argued to be able to reduce common-method bias (Podsakoff et al. 2003). This signifies that employees and supervisors are less likely to bias the relationship between variables of interest due to social desirability tendencies. However, this research only partially assessed ratings from multiple sources. That is, supervisors rated employees’ tendency to gossip, but employees rated perceived cohesion. Hence, the findings with regard to perceived cohesion may still have been subject to common-method bias. Nevertheless, given the consistency in results and as common-method bias has been shown to decrease the sensitivity of tests of moderation (Evans 1985), we are confident that common-method bias might be of lesser concern. A second limitation of our study concerns the low levels of abusive supervision reported in our sample (mean = 1.38). However, as stated by Harris et al. (2007), this finding is in line with previous research revealing levels of abusive supervision ranging from low, such as 631 1.26 (Tepper et al. 2004) and 1.38 (Tepper 2000), to high, such as 2.06 (Tepper et al. 2006) and 2.70 (Biron 2010). Moreover, as we were able to reveal a significant interaction effect between abusive supervision and organizational identification for both perceived cohesion and tendency to gossip, we feel confident that these low levels of abusive supervision are of little concern for data analysis. Finally, our design did not allow us to make causal inferences because of the cross-sectional nature of the data. It may well be that employees’ perceived cohesion and tendencies to gossip set the stage for abusive supervision to arise. However, prior longitudinal research showed that abusive supervision is the antecedent of many negative employee outcomes (Bamberger and Bacharach 2006; Tepper 2000; Tepper et al. 2001). Hence, previous theorizing does support our findings which provide some confidence in the hypothesized direction. Conclusion Recent leadership research focused on abusive supervision and the negative consequences it has on employees’ attitudes and behavior (Duffy et al. 2002; Mitchell and Ambrose 2007; Tepper 2000, 2007; Zellars et al. 2002). This study adds to this line of research by showing that employees do not necessarily react negatively toward an abusive leader. In fact, our findings showed that organizational identification functions as a protecting mechanism for the negative influence of abusive supervision on employees’ perceived cohesion and their tendency to gossip. In sum, this study illustrated that, in the presence of an abusive supervisor, employees with high organizational identification showed weaker negative reactions than when organizational identification was low. References Aiken, L. S., & West, S. G. (1991). 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