Abusive Supervision may have Roots in Childhood

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Roots Run Deep: Investigating Psychological Mechanisms Between History of Family Aggression and Abusive Supervision
Reviewed by: Amber Davidson


Supervisor anger is a common workplace problem. This can include a supervisor who is angered too easily or a situation when the supervisor’s anger is disproportional to the situation at hand. This study explores the true reasons behind this anger, hypothesizing that a history of family aggression is the root of angry reactions and abusive supervision.



Parents are the main role-models for children when they are young and children have a tendency to adopt the same coping techniques and reactions that they see their parents using. When a child grows up seeing an excess of family aggression, there are conscious and unconscious consequences. Exposure to aggression shows a child that this is acceptable behavior and this carries over into adult life, potentially creating an abusive supervisor. Seeing aggressive behavior lead to a successful outcome will also solidify the notion that aggression and abusive behavior will get the desired action or reaction. This ultimately means that children who grow up watching family aggression have the potential to become abusive supervisors for the simple reason that they were taught that aggression brings about desired results.



The study finds considerable evidence showing that family aggression does in fact increase the chances of abusive behavior in the workplace. This effect goes beyond the anger that is caused by situational factors, organizational mistreatment, demographical variables, or subordinates’ personality. The social learning theory was supported, meaning children who grow up seeing, and surrounded by, family aggression learn that abusive behaviors will produce the outcome they desire.



The authors also found that rumination, or the tendency to focus and dwell on negative past events, can make things worse. The association between abusive family life and abusive supervision was stronger when these supervisors engaged in more rumination. By focusing on the unpleasant aspects of growing up amidst family aggression and turmoil, supervisors became more likely to think hostile thoughts and experience hostile feelings. This led ruminating supervisors to act more hostile in the workplace.



The importance of this study is that it helps identify the root cause of abusive behavior in the workplace. This is important because abusive supervisors can have strong negative impacts on employees and the company as a whole. Two steps can be taken to decrease the negative outcomes of abusive supervision. The first is to train abusive supervisors through cognitive-behavioral coaching. This may include emotional intelligence training, in order to help supervisors gain control of the angry behavior. Training can also help limit rumination for supervisors, which may help decrease the occurrence of angry thoughts and feelings, even when supervisors are predisposed to have them. The second step that organizations can take is to not let supervisors with abusive potential into the organization in the first place. This can be done by altering the recruitment and selection process to help identify those supervisors who are most likely to lead employees in a positive manner, and not those who are reduced to abusive supervision.

How to Be Fair to Employees without Feeling Drained

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: The good and bad of being fair: effects of procedural and interpersonal justice behaviors on regulatory resources.
Reviewed by: Andrew Morris


Research that investigates perceptions of fairness and justice-related behavior has normally focused on recipients. We still know relatively little about how justice affects the actors, for example the cost of being consistently fair to employees for those in leadership roles. Acting justly has always been considered beneficial but it is important to realize that this may come at a price for some people.



The theory of ego depletion provided the framework for this study, and it states that acts of self-control and discipline require certain internal resources that inevitably run low. For example, studies found that following periods of self-control, subsequent attempts at such regulation were more likely to fail. This study explores the idea that certain interpersonal events at work can either drain resources or facilitate the renewal of these resources. The authors also wanted to know how this in-turn affects organizational citizenship behavior, meaning those behaviors where workers “go the extra mile”.



The researchers focused on interpersonal justice and procedural justice, which are two different aspects of justice within organizations. Procedural justice involves the process of how fairness is carried out within an organization, and interpersonal justice is the enactment of fairness between people. Not surprisingly, the research indicated that justice behavior fluctuates daily in terms of consistency. Interpersonal justice variations are not surprising, as people are prone to bias, but differences were noted in procedural justice as well, which you’d think would be more regulated.

The researchers found that procedural justice is taxing, and it depletes self-control. This is because it requires greater effort to suppress favoritism and bias. This finding not only shed light on the resource depletion that may ensue, but also how this depletion can impact subsequent organization citizenship behavior. Employees who feel depleted may be less inclined to resist deviant behaviors or go the extra mile.
Researchers found that resource-replenishing interpersonal justice behavior can counter this effect, specifically when employees were either introverted or neurotic. The authors say that these two types of people may have more to gain from the restorative power of getting along with others.



This research is significant because it highlights the potential drain that those in leadership positions may experience when engaging in daily justice behavior. It also tells us who may be more likely to experience this drain. Organizations can provide opportunities for resource replenishment for those who are constantly enacting these behaviors. They can do this by expanding opportunities for personal care, such as getting enough sleep, or by supporting an environment that encourages positive interpersonal justice. This is in the best interest of organizations, as it facilitates the kind of behavior that benefits the organization. It is also in the best interest of employees, because it may help avoid burnout.

How to Fix the Negative Relationships that Affect Team Performance

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: When Do Bad Apples Not Spoil the Barrel? Negative Relationships in Teams, Team Performance, and Buffering Mechanisms
Reviewed by: Amber Davidson

Nearly all companies and organizations use teams to get work done, but can negative relationships be preventing that from happening? As common as teamwork is, the dynamics that make a team actually work are often overlooked. Whether the team is temporarily thrown together or a permanent fixture, how the individuals get along is an essential factor in how well the team performs. Every individual has their differences, and frequently this can lead to disagreements or negative relationships amongst members of a team.


Negative relationships can be characterized by emotional and behavioral actions that induce distress, anger, and withdrawal. These types of harmful relationships amongst team members create a divided team, which in turn leads to an overall poorer team performance. A cohesive team will ultimately be more productive than a team that is separated by negative relationships. Negative relationships can never be completely avoided. However, there may be ways to decrease the undesirable effects of negative relationships on team performance.



The researchers examined three possible methods of negating the effects of negative relationships within a team. The first is called communication density, or how often a team talks with each other and brings to light harmful or damaging behaviors. If a team actively strives for a comfortable atmosphere where people can connect with the other members, negative relationships should be kept to a minimum. In turn, if there is little communication, negative relationships can continue to grow.

The second method is team member exchange, which is where members exchange feedback, support, and assistance when needed. When team members bounce ideas around and go to each other for help, negative relationships will be neutralized.

The third method is task-interdependence, which is when members of the group must work together to accomplish one task instead of each member having individual tasks. When team members must work together in this fashion, they are succeeding or failing together, which allows little room for negative behaviors.



The researchers who explored the three buffering ideas found that how frequently people talked and the overall group atmosphere did not play a significant role in neutralizing negative relationships. However, when team members went to each other for advice and support and when members depended on each other to complete a task, negative relationships were found to have a less damaging effect.



The use of teams in organizations is not going to stop, and it should not, because teams often foster innovative ideas and accomplish tasks that could not be done by a single individual. However, there are drawbacks, such as negative relationships, which will decrease a team’s cohesiveness and ultimately its performance. Companies should recognize the potential problems caused by negative relationships, and while negative relationships can never be completely avoided, they can be kept to a minimum. This study shows that these negative relationships can be mitigated by using two strategies. First, encourage team members to support each other, and second, design work so that employees need each other to complete tasks. These strategies should help reduce the harm caused by negative relationships, and ensure that teams remain successful.

Proactive Employees Need Political Skills to Succeed

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Are Proactive Personalities Always Beneficial? Political Skill as a Moderator
Reviewed by: Soner Dumani, M.A.


Employers assume that proactive employees are important for job success. Indeed past research shows that proactive employees, those who take initiative and champion change, perform better and earn more. However, proactive employees typically push the envelope, control their environment, and bring unexpected changes which may be viewed as threatening and distracting by others. A new study by Sun and van Emmerik (2014) introduces political skill as a factor that may reduce such concerns.



Politically skillful individuals are good at understanding others and their social environment, monitoring their behavior to influence others, and developing alliances to access resources. They also create good impressions because they are perceived as sincere in what they say and do. According to the researchers, proactive employees need political skills to express their change-oriented patterns in a more socially sensitive and acceptable way. This way, supervisors don’t think that they are challenging the status quo or imposing control based on a hunch.

To test their assertion, the researchers surveyed full time employees and their supervisors from 12 companies in various industries in China. Employees reported their political skills while their supervisors rated the employees on their task performance, helping, and learning behaviors. Results showed that highly proactive employees were rated lower by their supervisors, as long as employees’ political skills were low. However, when employees had high levels of political skill, there was no relationship between proactivity and supervisor ratings. When employees were not politically skilled, it seems that their proactivity was a detriment to themselves.



This new study shows that without high levels of political skill, proactive employees run the risk of being negatively evaluated in terms of performance by their supervisors. Proactive employees who are politically skillful are likely to frame work-related changes as serving the needs of others and garner supervisor support by appearing sincere and influential. This study highlights the importance of developing political skill to be able to identify organizational needs and adopt a socially sensitive approach in bringing change. By having the right amount of political skill, employees can avoid the potential negative influence of their proactive tendencies. From the perspective of employers, proactive employees might seem important, but if these employees aren’t politically savvy as well, employers might find themselves appreciating them less than they expected.

Flow at Work: Recovery Affects Whether Employees will “Be in the Zone”

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Making flow happen: the effects of being recovered on work-related flow between and within days
Reviewed by: Andrew Morris


Flow at work is an enjoyable peak experience that happens when an employee feels completely engrossed in a challenging project or activity. Not surprisingly, this kind of experience means great returns from employees in terms of performance and productivity. Unfortunately for most, it is not a permanent experience, and instead varies considerable on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Earlier research suggests that flow starts out high, dips, and then increases again, within any given day. This research sought to determine whether this was the case and also explore what the possible predictors of optimal and decreased flow may be.



Flow is a relatively complex phenomenon and consists of nine elements. I won’t list them all, but some of these include a balance between skill and challenge, the amount of control over a task, loss of self-consciousness, and sense of time loss as hours go by as you are absorbed in a task. Flow requires energy and expenditure of certain internal resources, as well as application of above average skills to a relatively difficult problem.

The researchers used the Effort Recovery Model to investigate work related flow during a given day. This theory concerns the investment of an individual’s resources into an activity that inevitably leads to depletion of the individual’s mental resources. Also included is the idea of recovery, which is a process that helps the employee restore their energy and internal resources.



The researchers hypothesized that the extent to which someone feels recovered (meaning fresh and full of energy) at the beginning of the day, affects their energy levels and internal resource availability. This would subsequently affect flow experiences during the day. This state of recovery and higher energy level would allow greater investment of resources into more difficult tasks, increasing the likelihood of experiencing flow.



The research confirmed that when employees felt more recovered than they usually do, they were more likely to experience flow during the day. As said before, that flow typically happens by starting out high, dipping, and then peaking again, in a pattern that looks like the letter U. When employees start the day in a poorly recovered state, there was a different pattern. They started low, remained low during noon-time and then experienced a further decrease in flow in the afternoon.



This study is unique in that it explored how flow interacts with situational factors, as it considered flow in light of employee resource availability within a given day. The findings are useful for employees and managers as they show that flow at work can be fostered through encouraging employee recovery. This goes beyond merely focusing on strategies that target how the work or tasks are done. Managers should also consider encouraging employees to disengage from work after hours to aid the recovery process.

Death Anxiety is Related to Burnout and Other Organizational Problems

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Don’t Fear the Reaper: Trait Death Anxiety, Mortality Salience, and Occupational Health
Reviewed by: Ben Sher

The typical workplace has many different personality types: Happy employees, charismatic employees, ambitious employees, egotistical employees, and many others. But have you ever thought much about employees who fear death? It’s not the kind of personality trait that you’d think has relevance in the workplace, but new research by Sliter, Sinclair, Yuan, and Mohr (2014) has shown that death anxiety has important implications on employee success.


Death anxiety refers to how much a person fears death. It is considered a personality trait, which means that people basically maintain the same level of it over time. A little bit of death anxiety is probably good, because it might prevent someone from doing something risky or dangerous. The problem happens when people have too much death anxiety. This is when it can get in the way of normal behavior, especially at work.



In the current study, the authors found that death anxiety has several negative outcomes in the workplace. Employees who have higher levels of death anxiety had higher levels of burnout, higher levels of absenteeism, and lower levels of work engagement (meaning they were not as dedicated to their jobs).

Why do all of these bad things happen? The authors hypothesize that people who worry about death more often will have fewer emotional resources to deal with other problems at work. According to many researchers, this lack of resources is how job burnout begins. This also helps explain why employees who fear death are not as dedicated to their jobs. It’s difficult to be absorbed in your work when your mind is preoccupied with something else. Finally, when employees fear death and experience burnout at work, it eventually leads to missing work entirely. This can be because of illness, or in order to avoid the unpleasantness that the employees associate with work.



The authors also found another downside to fearing death. Mortality cues are reminders of death that can pop up anywhere in daily life. Some jobs have more mortality cues than others. For example, an ER nurse might have recently seen a patient die, or an actuary might have to calculate mortality expectancies. Because these reminders of death are inherent in many jobs, it is important to understand how people react to them. In this study, the authors found that mortality cues are related to an increase in burnout among employees, but the association was especially strong when employees already had high levels of death anxiety. Working in a job that reminds employees of death is hard enough for ordinary people. When these employees enter with a pre-existing fear of death, it goes from bad to worse!



We want employees who don’t suffer from burnout, who are productive and engaged in their work, and who don’t have unnecessary absences. What can we do? First, this study has important implications for selection. If employees can be screened for death anxiety, the workplace will be better because of it. This is especially true when jobs contain mortality cues, or reminders of death. But what happens when employees who are already on the job suffer burnout or absenteeism due to their death anxiety? In this case, an organization can still provide employees with coping strategies or counseling programs that may be useful in helping them combat their fears. This is an emerging area of research, and future studies will provide further guidance to employers in making sure that fear of death doesn’t negatively impact the workplace.

Avoiding Adverse Impact: Selection Procedures That Increase Organizational Diversity

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: More Than g: Selection Quality and Adverse Impact Implications of Considering Second-Stratum Cognitive Abilities
Reviewed by: Andrew Morris


Using cognitive tests as part of an employee selection process will generally help more than various other methods (such as interviews) to ensure the selection of better performing individuals. There are some methods that are slightly better predictors of performance, but cognitive tests have proven to be a mainstay.

Unfortunately, the use of such tests can lead to discriminatory hiring practices against minority groups, who often score below their white counterparts due to a variety of factors.

Different strategies have been proposed to counteract this adverse impact in selection procedures in order to ensure a fairer hiring process and encourage greater diversity within the workplace. The research reviewed here investigated one such strategy.



Adverse Impact is a means of measuring this type of discrimination. It is calculated by dividing the selection ratio from the lower scoring group of applicants (a minority group) by the selection ratio of the higher scoring comparison group (historically, more privileged groups).

Adverse Impact towards the minority group has occurred if the result of these calculations is less than 4/5ths. This is a way of guarding against discriminatory selection practices and ensuring a more diverse and representative workforce.

When cognitive tests are used for selection procedures, it is perceived that the organization now has to make a trade-off between selection criteria related to work performance and selecting for diversity by adhering to the Adverse Impact ratio.



One strategy for overcoming Adverse Impact is to weigh cognitive and non-cognitive tests differently. The researchers investigated the use of this weighting strategy on cognitive sub-tests, which represented the second-order stratum of cognitive ability.

Second-order cognitive abilities are not specific individual abilities, but rather a broader constellation of related abilities, yet still more refined than a measure of general cognitive ability (known as g). For example, measuring acquired knowledge in reading and writing (stratum II) would include relationships across vocabulary, reading comprehension, and analogy tests.

The researchers hypothesized that, although general cognitive ability may be a fairly good predictor of later performance, the stratum II abilities may be better predictors when a job requires that specific ability. By using a sophisticated weighing technique with varying values for specific abilities related to a job, the researchers found that this method could improve minority hiring, but not at the expense of selection quality if a test of general cognitive ability was used.



This research is particularly interesting for managers and recruiters because it provides a clear way forward in decreasing the possible Adverse Impact of company selection procedures, which helps to create a more diverse workforce.

Workplace diversity has been shown to have multiple benefits in terms of organizational outcomes. But you can also rest assured that using such weighted methods won’t decrease the quality of hires if the abilities are shown to relate to the job.

Is It Lonely At the Top? The Victimization of High Performers

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Victimization of High Performers: The Roles of Envy and Work Group Identification
Reviewed by: Soner Dumani, M.A.


High Performers are defined as the group of talented employees that increase both team and organizational performance.

Previous research has suggested that individuals high on cognitive ability are more likely to experience workplace victimization, and High Performers might be the target of interpersonal harm.

The current study by Eugune Kim and Theresa Glomb extends this line of research by examining the extent to which High Performers are victimized due to group members’ envy, and whether work group identification can reduce this potential negative consequence of high performance.



Compared to average workplace performers, High Performers tend to enjoy more financial and social resources, and they receive more attention in their work groups and organizations. As a result, they are often at the risk of being victimized by other organizational members.

The researchers conducted two separate studies– one with staff members at a large university in the United States, and the other with employees from three organizations in South Korea. In both samples, High Performers were found to be victimized more than low performers.



As a result of being constantly compared to High Performers, the study found that other group members’ self-evaluation might suffer.

They also discovered that such feelings of inferiority may motivate group members to victimize high performers, with the intention of reducing their advantages in the workplace.

In short, the researchers found that envy usually explained why high performers were more likely to be victimized.



The researchers also found that work group identification can reduce High Performer victimization in the workplace.

When group members identify themselves with the group and have strong bonds with one another, they don’t tend to develop feelings of envy and/or don’t let their feelings of envy translate into victimization.



The current study highlights the importance of promoting work group identification, such as engaging in team building activities or social gatherings to reduce envy towards high performers.

High performers might also consider downplaying their accomplishments and maintaining a humble outlook to avoid potential victimization in the future.

Are Defiant Employees Causing their Bosses to be Abusive?


Both managers and employees sometimes act inappropriately in the workplace. For example, managers can excessively yell at, ridicule, or make fun of those working for them. We’ll refer to this as abusive supervision.

Similarly, employees can deliberately break rules and ignore norms, harming the organization they work for in the process. We’ll refer to this as organizational defiance.

Researchers have always believed that abusive supervision and organizational defiance often seem to occur in the same workplaces. But which one is the cause, and which one is the result?



The traditional belief is that abusive supervision leads to organizational defiance. Basically, if the boss treats employees poorly, they ultimately retaliate against the organization.

Although many psychology studies have a hard time determining which is the cause and which is the effect, theory can step in and help shed light on the answer. When employees experience abusive supervision and feel like they’re being taken advantage of, they may feel a need to punish the organization in order to restore balance.

Alternatively, when dealing with abusive supervisors, employees may have to focus so much of their attention on the abuse that they have trouble devoting attention toward controlling their impulses. This can lead to acting in ways that are inappropriate.



In the current study, the authors examined the possibility that, when employees act out, it causes supervisors to become abusive.

When supervisors need to deal with employee misbehavior, they lose some of their own ability to practice self- control. This may lead managers to have reactions that have otherwise been inhibited. Also, in response to employee defiance, managers may feel the need to “save face” or project an aura of authority, which could lead to acting in a more authoritarian or controlling manner.

Finally, sometimes employees who act out may be inadvertently sending cues to their managers, inviting them to join in the same norm-violating behavior.



The current study used an advanced data-collection method to show that organizational defiance by employees causes abusive supervision by managers, which is the reverse of what previous researchers had assumed.

But, like many aspects of human behavior, it’s not quite so simple. The researchers also showed that abusive supervision can sometimes cause employee defiance. This was especially true when the employees did not have a lot of self-control, and when they intended to leave the organization. Under these circumstances, employees who face abusive leadership are unable to refrain from bad behavior, and they have little incentive for doing so, since they plan to leave the company anyway.

The authors also showed that, if abusive supervision and employee defiance are capable of causing each other, a vicious cycle emerges where both negative aspects can feed off of each other and escalate into an unpleasant work environment for everybody.



So how can organizational leaders create a workplace that curbs inappropriate behavior from both managers and employees? The results of this article indicate that simply firing offenders may not be the right answer, since firing abusive managers won’t help if their behavior was caused by defiant employees.

What organizations can do is stress the importance of standards for employee conduct, insisting that abusive management is no excuse to retaliate against the organization. This can help slow the vicious cycle.

Also, employees and managers can be selected specifically for their capacity for self-control. This helps to make sure a bad situation does not escalate, and that both employees and managers can always respond to others in a level-headed manner.

Teamwork- How Team Personality Influences Individual Behaviors


In most work places, teamwork is a common feature that can have many benefits for organizational productivity and competitiveness.

But not all group dynamics are helpful or add value, so a fair bit of research has been done on the behaviors that produce desired outcomes. Much of it has looked at how someone’s personality affects whether they would be helpful or not. But few researchers have looked at the impact “team personality” has on individual actions.

The team of researchers behind a new study on teamwork and cooperation sought to examine the extent to which group dynamics ultimately influence individual behaviors.



Group norms are the accepted, unofficial standards that members of a group follow, which help to evaluate the behavior of individuals. These norms help individual group members identify which behaviors would be permissible within a certain situation and which would not.

Some groups have norms that promote greater interdependence, and therefore appreciate helping behaviors more that groups which don’t adopt these norms. In general, groups with co-operative norms have higher performance and satisfaction.

This study investigated the influence Team Personality (i.e. those characteristics that define a group) would have on encouraging these norms and its subsequent impact on individual helping behaviors.



Researchers were interested in examining two primary traits at the group level– extroversion and agreeableness.

Agreeableness is essentially about cooperation with others, while extroversion concerns the sociability of the individual. Given the social characteristics of individuals with these traits, teams that are characterized by such individuals tend to show greater cohesion and work-load sharing, but less friction.

The researchers believed that a group with a large number of individuals who ranked high on extroversion and agreeableness would have high levels of cooperative group norms, which is a strong predictor for an increase in individual helping behaviors.



Researchers found that the level of extroversion within a group’s team personality impacted the adoption of cooperative norms, even when there was quiet a difference in extroversion levels amongst individual members.

A high level of extroversion implies a greater degree of assertiveness and influencing of others to accept certain norms. So, even if there are only a few team members who rank high on extroversion, they’re still influential. The norms accepted within this group then influence individual helping behaviors.

Agreeableness was different. Only where there was little difference on agreeableness between team members would it quickly facilitate the adoption of co-operative norms. If there was a lot of difference between team members, then the emergence of co-operative norms was often hampered.



Cooperative norms and high levels of helping behaviors can greatly enhance a team’s output. This study showed that team personality does affect these aspects.

The results have implications for managers wanting to facilitate the change of group norms, as well as those bringing a new individual on to a team.

In short, understanding both the team personality and the individual personality are important for finding a good fit, and also important for influencing helping behavior outcomes.