Over the past decades, counterproductive work behaviors (CWBs) have become an increasingly popular topic of the study among organizational researchers [1
]. CWBs involve activities that are unhealthy for the effectiveness of the organization. These activities slow down the normal working of the organization. Different studies have shown the economic effects of CWBs on organizations. Recent works have indicated that global businesses suffer losses of around US$
2.9 trillion annually due to fraudulent activities [1
Interpersonal relationships are developed in the work environment with none being of more importance than those that the employees have with the manager or supervision to whom they report [7
]. In reviewing past research there has been the discovery of empirical evidence revealing that supervisor abuse has a relationship to the employees’ workplace deviance while also identifying some of the situational contexts which can aid in building a much better understanding concerning when as well as why employees’ workplace deviance is less likely to occur [9
]. However, it is of importance to realize that empirical research explores the boundary effects, with the information being somewhat limited. This entails a discussion of the impact of abusive supervision and counterproductive work behavior with a moderated mediation model that can aid in the correction of this adverse action.
The primary concern relative to this study is to discover how abusive supervision impacts workplace deviance behavior [10
]. All organizations and businesses must have an understanding of the importance of employees and leaders working together in order to aid the business in growing while also gaining a competitive advantage in the market, wherein human capital is being of great importance. However, when abusive supervision and counterproductive work behavior are present in the workplace, the company can become inefficient as well as non-productive, which are actions that will affect customer service as well as the products created by the company [3
Emotional exhaustion is characterized by feelings of being drained, overstretched and depleted of one’s resources [11
]. The limitation of personal resources causes employees to experience emotional exhaustion (EE). EE is a state of physical and psychological depletion [5
], and is one of the most dysfunctional attitudes in the contemporary high stress work environment. Emotional exhaustion refers to behavior that can distract oneself emotionally and cognitively from work [11
]. Abusive supervision is responsible for employees’ emotional exhaustion and ultimately supports employees to engage in counterproductive work behavior [12
]. Employees who have faced abusive supervision have experienced emotional exhaustion that has, in turn, led to counterproductive work behaviors [14
]. Emotional exhaustion can be conceptualized as a loss of resources that are essential for the completion of work [15
], Conversation of Resources (COR) theory [15
], is related to emotional exhaustion. According to COR theory, people struggle in order to retain, protect, and build upon that which they value (i.e., resources). Emotional exhaustion occurs when these valuable resources are lost, or when people are unable to get expected returns. From the perspective of COR theory, it can be a useful viewpoint from which to elaborate on how CWB influenced by abusive supervision [15
]. In the light of COR theory, the current research investigates the influence of abusive supervision, a type of workplace stressor, on CWB. The subordinates of abusive supervisors are more likely to perceive emotional demand and a lack of resources during their interactions—this leads to emotional exhaustion.
Job demand can be defined as the psychological, physical, organizational, and social aspects of the job that requires sustained psychological/physical (emotional or cognitive) skills or efforts [16
]. Therefore, this is related to specific psychological costs [16
]. Employees working under abusive supervision may decide to engage in CWB because they anticipate that they will not get sufficient resources when the job demands are high. High job demand and control all of the necessary resources by an abusive supervisor create emotional exhaustion among subordinates. Subordinates working under high job demands require considerable resources for the completion of tasks [16
]. However, prior study has indicated that better resource management abilities means that subordinates will experience fewer undesirable attitudes (i.e., turnover intentions, emotional exhaustion, and dissatisfaction), in that those who work under abusive supervision will not perform as well as those who capably manage their resources [18
]. Therefore, this study considered job demands as a moderator.
Today, more than ever, organizations are placing a focus on the reduction of counterproductive work behavior as these behaviors lead to more difficulties within the workplace, creating, at best, a lethal environment for dissension, confusion, and conflict within the workplace [19
]. There will also be less productivity and efficiency, thereby increasing the cost of products and services. Therefore, this study has been performed to share a moderated mediation model which can be used to identify factors to overcome counterproductive work behavior, thereby creating a peaceful work environment for all employees.
Using a moderated mediation framework, we proffered that emotional exhaustion play a significant mediating role between CWB, and that abusive supervision differs depending on job demands. Because job demands are always associated with subordinate’s emotional exhaustion, high job demands are known to intensify the significant and positive effect of abusive supervision. According to our study, the detrimental effects of abusive supervision on emotional exhaustion increases with job demands, and a positive indirect effect between CWB and abusive supervision is strengthened.
Therefore, the current study aims to answer the following three questions. In what way and under what conditions does abusive supervision lead to CWB? Does abusive supervision facilitate CWB, and if so, what are the underlying mechanisms and how do job demands influence these associations? How and when are employees emotionally exhausted due to abusive supervision and CWB? By focusing on these issues, present study creates new insights that organization can employ to alleviate the harmful effects of abusive supervision rather extend the existing literature.
More specifically, the significant contribution of the present study is to test and develop the theoretical model by applying the conservation of resources (COR) theory of stress developed by [15
]. For this study, manufacturing firms were selected in China. There is a need to conceptualize abusive supervision as workplace stressors that cause employees to lose valuable personal resources. Abusive supervision and CWBs relationship have been explained by the COR theory to demonstrate the stress process. Therefore, the research provides several important contributions with respect to abusive supervision and COR Theory. First, the present study contributes to the existing research of abusive supervision because this factor is so harmful for employees and organizations. Many supervisors habitually abuse their employees with the organization’s best interests in mind. Furthermore, the context of this study is entirely different than previous conducted studies. Second, we extend the current literature review of abusive supervision through an understanding of the role of employee’s job demands to classify the limitations of connections between emotional exhaustion and abusive supervision, which has not been previously established with this model. Thus, the mediator, and moderating role of job demands and emotional exhaustion, is yet another contribution of this study. Third, by employing the moderated mediation model of Edwards and Lambert [20
], the present study discovers the circumstances under which abusive supervision is associated with CWBs. The primary focus of existing literature on abusive supervision conclude and recipients that abusive supervision is always harmful and costly [12
]. The context of this study is another contribution of this study.
3.1. Sample Procedures
Data were collected from three Chinese manufacturing firms located in an eastern province of China. With the approval and assistance of senior management, we randomly distributed 500 questionnaires of selected companies. The pool of respondents comprised both employees and supervisors.
The data were collected through a three-waves survey, which is likely to minimize the common method bias [47
]. In the first-wave survey (time1), employees rated their leaders’ abusive supervision, job demands, control variables, and provided demographic information. One month after the first, second wave survey was conducted (time2), employees rated their emotional exhaustion during the previous month. Finally, in the third-wave survey (time3),
being conducted one month after the second-wave survey, supervisors were asked to evaluate the counterproductive work behaviors of their subordinates in the previous month.
Two members from the research team explained the purpose of the study and data collection procedure for both supervisors and employees during the working hours. All of the participants received a cover letter outlining related to study, assurance of anonymity, voluntary nature of participation, and then the participants returned the envelope and questionnaires. During the first and second wave (time1) and (time2), the data were matched to the responses of the supervisors collected during the third wave (time3), using a coding system based on information provided by the managers.
A total of 425 questionnaires were obtained from employees during the first-wave survey. After one month, the second wave-survey collected 400 questionnaires from the employees. The response rate of the first two surveys was 85%. The third-wave survey was distributed to the employees and supervisors. We received 350 completed questionnaires from supervisors and employees, yielding a response rate of 70%. Taken together, our final sample comprised was 350 supervisors-subordinates’ dyads. From employee, we received 350 completed self-reported questionnaires and 40 from supervisors. Thus, yielding a response rate of 70%. Under one supervisor, 8–10 employees were working, so one supervisor was responsible for completing the questionnaire for 8–10 employees.
Of the 350 employees selected for this study, 85% were male, who had worked for the organization for 9.38 years (Standard Deviation (SD) = 0.96), and had an average age of 32.43 years (SD = 6.52). The position in the organizations frontline employees were 78.8%, managers of frontline were 13.9%, and middle-level managers were 7.3%. Of the 40 supervisors, 60% were male, their average age was 42.64 years (SD = 5.68), and their average tenure was 8.39 years (SD = 7.27).
All scales were originally developed in English. The target respondents of this study were Chinese people. We back-translate the questionnaires [48
]. First, questionnaire was translated into Chinese and then back translation into English with the help of two post-graduate students who are majors in foreign linguistics and two post-doctoral researchers. Thirty Ph.D students were recruited for pilot survey. After the pilot survey, recommendations and suggestions were collected and to revise the questionnaire before the final survey. All response options ranged from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree).
3.2.1. Job Demands
This variable using an eight-items scales are developed by Van Veldhoven and Meijiman [49
]. An example of sample items is included “I have to work extra hard to finish a task”. The scale is reliable (Cronbach’s α = 0.86).
3.2.2. Emotional Exhaustion
Five items were used to evaluate the emotional exhaustion developed by Maslack burnout inventory scale, Maslack, Jackson & Leiter’s [50
]. One sample item is included as “I feel burnout of my work” (Cronbach’s α = 0.90).
3.2.3. Abusive Supervision
In order to assess the abusive supervision used five items were developed by Tepper [8
]. This variable scale ranges from 1 = (never) to 5 = (very often). An example of one item is “My supervisor tells me my thoughts or felling are stupid”. (Cronbach’s α = 0.89).
3.2.4. Counterproductive Work Behavior
CWB used eight-items scale is adopted from Dalal and Welch [3
]. A sample item is included as “Behaved in an unfriendly manner”. (Cronbach’s α = 0.96).
3.2.5. Control Variables
Demographic characteristics such as employee’s education, gender, age, tenure, level of organization. For supervisors, education, gender, age, level of organization, and tenure. 20 items of Waston and Tellegen [51
] related to positive and negative effects used in present study. The employees show that how they normally feel in terms of 10 positive affect (e.g., joyful, interested, and satisfied) and 10 negative effects (e.g., irritated, nervous, disappointed) used by five response options from (1 = Not at all, 5 = Extremely). The alpha value for positive affect (PA) (Cronbach’s α = 0.91) and for negative affect (NA) (Cronbach’s α = 0.94).
6. Boundaries and Future Opportunities
Our research has several limitations. First, the collection of the data occurred from different periods and could not confirm the causality. Furthermore, future research should apply a longitudinal design with a similar measure in each period to establish the causality.
Second, data were collected from the manufacturing sector. Results may be different if applied to another business sector. Different business sector should be taken into consideration for future research like the hospitality sector, banking sector, and telecommunications sector.
Third, data were collected from China (Asian country) having a different organizational structure. The results may not be applicable to the western context having different cultural values and business settings. The cross-cultural study should be recommended in the future for getting better results.
Finally, applying the COR theory, we found that emotional exhaustion is a strongest mediator in the relationship between abusive supervision and CWBs. Hence, another theoretical framework may help to explain the influential processes of abusive supervision. The present research treats counterproductive work behaviors (CWBs) as the dependent variable. Future research should find out how abusive supervision influences the reaction of subordinates.