When subordinates respond constructively to abusive supervision: the moderating role of performance goal orientation

Haizhen Wang, Li qun Wei, Ruoyong Zhang*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review


Purpose: Despite the literature on subordinates' destructive responses to abusive leadership, an emerging body of literature proposes that subordinates may react constructively to abusive supervision under certain conditions. The authors contribute to this line of research by proposing and testing the moderating effects of performance-approach and -avoidance goal orientation on the relationship between abusive supervision and task performance, and by testing work effort as a mechanism underlying this moderating effect.

Design/methodology/approach: The study hypotheses were tested in two studies. In Study 1 (field survey, N = 230), the moderation hypotheses were tested. Study 2 (experiment, N = 116) extended Study 1 and examined the mediated moderation model. 

Findings: The study empirical evidence from the two studies showed that (1) abusive supervision was more positively related to an employee's task performance when that employee's performance-approach goal orientation was high (vs low), (2) abusive supervision was not more positively related to task performance when performance-avoidance goal orientation was high (vs low) and (3) the employee's work effort mediated the moderating effect of performance-approach goal orientation.

Practical implications: This research suggests that organizations and subordinates should be aware of the positive contextual role of performance-approach goal orientation, which may shape subordinates' subsequent work behavior in response to supervisors' hostility, and should invest more time and effort in reinforcing subordinates' performance-approach goal orientation. Originality/value: This study has identified a new condition and offers new evidence of the potential functional effect of abusive supervision. Specifically, the study finding of the positive moderating role of performance-approach goal orientation adds to the literature examining when abused subordinates respond constructively to abusive supervision. The study analysis of the mediating effect of work effort further reveals the mechanism of this effect.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Managerial Psychology
Issue number1
Early online date18 Nov 2023
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jan 2024

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Applied Psychology
  • Management Science and Operations Research
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management

User-Defined Keywords

  • Abusive supervision
  • Performance-approach goal orientation
  • Task performance
  • Work effort


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