This study was supported by Key Projects in the National Science & Technology Pillar Program of China (No.2009BAI77B04) to Prof. Lei Wang.
Address for correspondence: Lei Wang, Department of Psychology, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Researchers generally believe that abusive supervision leads to poor employee well-being (e.g. poor mental health and lower job satisfaction). However, these relationships are not always observed. Based on the cognitive appraisal theory, the current research extended the content domain of abusive supervision research by examining the moderating effect of power distance orientation (the extent to which an individual accepts the unequal distribution of power in institutions and organisations), a kind of cultural value, on these relationships. We tested two independent samples (N 1 = 762 and N 2 = 347) using different methods. Results showed that employees' power distance orientation moderated the relationships of abusive supervision with employee psychological health and job satisfaction, such that the negative relationships were weaker for employees with higher power distance orientation. The findings suggest the adaptive function of cultural values employees hold in organisational behavior. The implications for theory and practice are discussed.
Consistent with growing interest in deviant behaviors in organisations (Bligh, Kohles, Pearce, Justin, & Stovall, 2007; Kwok, Au, & Ho, 2005), researchers have focused on destructive leader behavior that is characterised as abusive supervision. Abusive supervision has been defined by Tepper (2000, p. 178) as “subordinates' perceptions of the extent to which their supervisors engage in the sustained display of hostile verbal and nonverbal behaviors, excluding physical contact”. Studies show that abusive supervision affects 13.6 per cent of US workers (Tepper, 2007), and results in an annual cost of $23.8 billion to US companies in terms of absenteeism, health care costs, and lost productivity (Tepper, Duffy, Henle, & Lambert, 2006). Hence, abusive supervisory behavior has been seen as a significant social problem and more research is required to further explore its impact.
As a workplace stressor, abusive supervision was linked with poor employee well-being, such as depression (Kessler, Spector, Chang, & Parr, 2008; Tepper, 2000), anxiety (Hobman, Restubog, Bordia, & Tang, 2009; Kessler et al., 2008; Tepper, 2000), emotional exhaustion (Hobman et al., 2009; Tepper, 2000; Wu & Hu, 2009), burnout (Grandey, Kern, & Frone, 2007; Tepper, 2000; Yagil, 2006), somatic health complaints (Duffy, Ganster, & Pagon, 2002), and job dissatisfaction (Kessler et al., 2008; Tepper, 2000; Tepper, Duffy, Hoobler, & Ensley, 2004). These findings highlight the impacts of abusive supervision on followers' psychological well-being. Recently, researchers have been more concerned with the moderating effects on these relationships (Aryee, Sun, Chen, & Debrah, 2008), that is, identifying the possible variables that could buffer the adverse effect of abusive supervision. Existing studies have found some factors that moderate the relationships between abusive supervision and subordinates' well-being (Duffy et al., 2002; Grandey et al., 2007; Harvey, Stoner, Hochwarter, & Kacmar, 2007; Hobman et al., 2009; Tepper, 2000; Tepper, Moss, Lockhart, & Carr, 2007; Wu & Hu, 2009). However, to the best of our knowledge, no research has focused on the possible moderating effect that the cultural values held by employees have in the abusive supervision–employee well-being relationships.
The need to clarify the moderating effect of cultural values is very urgent. Because of the globalisation of business, organisations will increasingly manage employees with different cultural values. According to reviews of the cross-cultural management literature (Gelfand, Erez, & Aycan, 2007; Kirkman, Lowe, & Gibson, 2006), the cultural values employees hold play an important role in how employees react to various facets of their work. Hence, in order to practice employee management effectively, we need to have better knowledge of how the cultural values that employees hold influence their understanding of leader behaviors, as well as how leadership behaviors interact with followers' cultural values to affect followers' psychological and behavioral outcomes.
In the current research, individual power distance orientation is chosen as the moderator for two reasons. First, power distance is one of the most important cultural values that can be found in almost all existent cultural value frameworks (Kirkman, Chen, Farh, Chen, & Lowe, 2009). Second, power distance is the most relevant cultural value factor in the current research framework because abusive supervision manifests itself in the form of misusing power, and employees' fundamental values of power are likely to affect their understanding of, and then their reaction to, supervisors' abusive behaviors.
The present research extends previous research in the following ways: First, little research on abusive supervision has examined the impact of cultural values, and several authors have recently called for greater consideration of cultural values as relevant factors in abusive supervision research (Aryee et al., 2008; Tepper, 2007). The current research responds to these calls, which also is the first attempt to examine the moderating effect of power distance orientation on the relationships between abusive supervision and employee well-being.
Second, although previous research has shown that power distance is an important type of cultural value that influences how people interpret and evaluate social information, its adaptive function has largely been ignored. According to Triandis (1994), cultural values are adaptive or at least have been adaptive at some point in the past. As a type of cultural value that has existed in different countries for a long time, power distance should have some adaptive function, which has not yet been clarified. The current research demonstrates the adaptive role of power distance by examining its buffering effect on the relationships between abusive supervision and employee well-being.
Third, we chose to conduct the present research in China. So far, most of the studies on abusive supervision have been carried out in the USA. However, more research should be conducted in China due to its hierarchy culture (Hofstede, 2005). In particular, since China is a country with a higher level of power distance, it is a place more suitable to examine the potential adaptive function and moderating effect of power distance. Moreover, China is one of the developing countries undergoing profound transition in institutional rules and cultural values. Examining the value differences on employees' reactions to leader behaviors in China has great significance. This provides insight into management practice in China as well as in other developing countries, which together account for four-fifths of the world population.
Abusive Supervision and Employee Well-Being
Abusive supervision represents prolonged emotional or psychological mistreatment of subordinates from behaviors such as ridiculing subordinates in front of others, withholding important information, and using disparaging language, threats, and intimidation tactics (Zellars, Tepper, & Duffy, 2002), all of which are experienced over an extended period of time (Tepper, 2000). Although these verbal and nonverbal behaviors are not physical attacks or sexual assault, the sustained nature of abusive supervision can chronically damage an individual psychologically, and lead employees to be dissatisfied with the job. From a stress perspective, abusive supervision can be seen as an interpersonal stressor, which leads to subordinates' strain reactions (such as poor mental health and job dissatisfaction).
Much of the past research supports this point of view (Duffy et al., 2002; Grandey et al., 2007; Tepper, 2000; Tepper et al., 2004; Yagil, 2006). For example, subordinates who perceived their supervisors as more abusive reported more depression, anxiety, and emotional exhaustion (Tepper, 2000). Harvey et al. (2007) found that abusive supervision induced unfavorable psychological consequences in followers such as tension and emotional exhaustion. However, drawing on cognitive appraisal theory, there are strong theoretical grounds for expecting that individual differences in power distance orientation will affect the magnitude of the relationships between abusive supervision and employee well-being.
The Moderating Role of Power Distance Orientation
In the current research we propose a moderating role of power distance orientation on the relationships between abusive supervision and employee well-being based on cognitive appraisal theory (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). Cognitive appraisal is “a process through which the person evaluates whether a particular encounter with the environment is relevant to his or her well-being, and if so, in what ways” (Folkman, Lazarus, Dunkel-Schetter, DeLongis, & Gruen, 1986, p. 992). Cognitive appraisal includes both primary appraisal and secondary appraisal. In primary appraisal, individuals evaluate whether the encounter is stressful. When the encounter is appraised as requiring a coping response, individuals evaluate whether they can cope with the situation, which is called secondary appraisal. At the core of cognitive appraisal theory is the notion that individuals make appraisals that affect the stress that they feel in response to an environmental stimulus (e.g. an interpersonal stressor). The extent to which individuals experience strain resulting from stressors depends on how they interpret these stressors (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). In addition, cognitive appraisal theory considers that some individual characteristics are important determinants of appraisal, such as values. Values influence a wide range of behaviors (e.g. Fischer & Smith, 2006; Stone-Romero, Stone, & Salas, 2003). They can also influence appraisal by determining the significance of an event, shaping the understanding of this event, and providing the basis for evaluating the outcomes (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). Thus, the values individuals hold should influence their reactions to the environmental stimulus.
In the current research, we focused on one type of value, namely power distance, which is one of the four dimensions of Hofstede's (1980) cultural values. Although Hofstede claimed that studies of cultural values are only meaningful at the societal level, researchers have found that each of his value dimensions has large variation over individuals in societies and that these individual differences have direct effects on many outcomes (Clugston, Howell, & Dorfman, 2000; Kirkman & Shapiro, 2001). Since we focus on the moderating role of individual difference factors, we use the term power distance orientation to indicate an individual construct of power distance (see Kirkman et al., 2009, for the same treatment of power distance at the individual level of analysis).
Since power distance orientation deals with an individual's values of status, authority, and power in organisations, employees with different levels of power distance orientation would have different views on supervisors' behaviors, and therefore have different reactions to these behaviors. Based on cognitive appraisal theory (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984), power distance orientation should influence the primary appraisal rather than the secondary appraisal of abusive supervision. This is because power distance orientation represents individuals' values of power, which is more closely linked to their understanding and interpretation of supervisory abusive behaviors and their evaluation of whether this situation is stressful or irrelevant to their well-being, rather than how to deal with this encounter. Subordinates with high power distance orientation recognise the existence of hierarchy and show deference and obedience to authority figures (Farh, Hackett, & Liang, 2007). They have the expectation that they are inferior to the supervisor in status, and accept the imbalance of power (Tyler, Lind, & Huo, 2000). In this case, they take abusive supervisory behaviors for granted, don't care very much about how they are treated by their supervisors, and then evaluate this interpersonal stressor as irrelevant to their well-being, or at least less stressful. As a result, they demonstrate less decrease in well-being.
In contrast, subordinates with low power distance orientation believe that they are equal to their supervisors in status, view subordinate disagreement with and criticism of authorities as appropriate, and feel more able to negotiate the terms and rules governing them in the organisation (Farh et al., 2007; Tyler et al., 2000). However, the existence of power misuse as a manifestation of abusive supervision in fact enlarges the power imbalance between supervisors and subordinates, which conflicts greatly with their own belief that they have similar social status to their supervisors. Due to such a major conflict, subordinates with low power distance tend to evaluate the abusive leadership as more stressful in their cognitive appraisal, which would consequently lead to their low level of well-being.
In sum, drawing on cognitive appraisal theory (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984), we propose that power distance orientation should weaken the relationships between abusive supervision and employee well-being. Subordinates with high power distance orientation evaluate abusive supervision as irrelevant to their well-being, or less stressful, therefore buffering the impact of abusive supervision on their mental state and job satisfaction. In contrast, subordinates with low power distance orientation appraise the mistreatment they receive from their supervisors as more stressful due to the conflicts between their belief and supervisors' behaviors. Their reactions would then be stronger and therefore they would suffer from more mental discomfort and experience more job dissatisfaction. Accordingly, we hypothesised that:
Hypothesis 1: Individual power distance orientation will moderate the relationship between abusive supervision and employee mental health, such that the relationship will be weaker for employees who are higher in power distance orientation.
Hypothesis 2: Individual power distance orientation will moderate the relationship between abusive supervision and employee job satisfaction, such that the relationship will be weaker for employees who are higher in power distance orientation.
We tested our hypotheses in two studies that made use of different research designs and measurements for key variables with different samples. Study 1 was a cross-sectional investigation using data from blue-collar employees working in a manufacturing company. Study 2 was a two-wave investigation using data from white-collar employees working in a number of organisations across several industries. The use of different research designs and different samples makes our test of the hypotheses more robust.
Participants and Procedure
Participants in this study were 762 employees working in a manufacturing company located in southern China. The participants were told that data were collected for management improvement. The questionnaires were completed anonymously and voluntarily in groups. One thousand questionnaires were distributed and 762 were returned (a 76.20% response rate). Among these participants, 78.74 per cent were female, 9.58 per cent were males and 11.68 per cent didn't report their gender; their mean age was 22.89 (SD = 3.26); 0.26 per cent didn't get a junior high school diploma, 56.96 per cent completed junior high school education, 34.78 per cent had a high school diploma, 1.97 per cent had some college or above, 6.04 per cent didn't report their education; 5.64 per cent were line managers, 81.50 per cent were factory workers, and 12.86 per cent didn't report their position.
We followed prior research and conceptualised abusive supervision as a perceptual phenomenon (Tepper, 2000; Zellars et al., 2002). A five-item scale developed by Mitchell and Ambrose (2007) was used to measure subordinates' perceptions of abusive supervision (Cronbach's α =.91 in the current research). This shortened version scale has acceptable reliability and validity (Mitchell & Ambrose, 2007; Thau & Mitchell, 2010), and has been proved able to represent the content of abusive supervision (Tepper, Carr, Breaux, Geider, Hu, & Hua, 2009). Respondents were asked to rate their agreement on a 7-point scale (1 = strongly disagree, 7 = strongly agree). An example item is “My supervisor ridicules me”. Higher scores represent more abusive supervision.
Power Distance Orientation
We assessed power distance orientation with a six-item measure developed by Dorfman and Howell (1988) (Cronbach's α =.77 in the current research). Previous research demonstrated that this scale has good validity and reliability at the individual level of measurement (Culpepper & Watts, 1999), and has been employed in a number of studies conducted at the individual level (e.g. Begley, Lee, Fang, & Li, 2002; Farh et al., 2007). Respondents were asked to rate their agreement on a 7-point scale (1 = strongly disagree, 7 = strongly agree). An example item is “Managers should make most decisions without consulting subordinates”. Higher scores represent higher power distance orientation.
We used the 12-item version of the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12) developed by Goldberg and Williams (Goldberg & Williams, 1988) to assess employees' psychological health (Cronbach's α =.69 in the current research). The GHQ-12 has been widely used as a screening measure for general psychological health, or psychological distress (McDowell & Newell, 1996), and has been tested in various cultural and language contexts (Ye, 2009). Items included in the GHQ-12 measure psychological strain, rather than stressors (Bridger, Kilminster, & Slaven, 2007). Since the GHQ-12 is intended to be used as a tool for a general evaluation of one's mental health status and the distinction of different factors among the GHQ-12 did not provide any help in improving its predictive power (Wang & Lin, 2011), we treated the GHQ-12 as a unidimensional measure. Respondents were asked to rate their agreement on a 4-point scale (1 = never, 4 = much more than usual). An example item is “Unhappy and depressed”. Higher scores represent better psychological health after we reversed the scores.
Job satisfaction was measured with the job satisfaction survey, a 36-item scale developed by Spector (1985) (Cronbach's α =.83 in the current research). This 36-item scale assesses satisfaction with nine job facets (e.g. pay, supervisor, work, promotional opportunities), as well as overall satisfaction. This scale has acceptable reliability and validity (Spector, 1997), and has been employed in numerous behavioral studies (Blau, 1999; Takalkar & Coovert, 1994). Since we focused on the general job satisfaction of employees, we generated an overall satisfaction score rather than scores of the nine facets (Spector, 1997). Respondents were asked to rate their agreement on a 7-point scale (1 = strongly disagree, 7 = strongly agree). Example items include “I like doing the things I do at work”, “My job is enjoyable”, and “My supervisor is unfair to me” (reversed coded). We reversed the scores so that higher scores represent higher job satisfaction.
Participants' demographic characteristics, including gender, age, education, tenure, and position, comprised our control variables. We controlled for these demographics in the regression analysis because these status variables affect employee responses to interpersonal mistreatment (Aquino & Douglas, 2003).
Results and Discussion
We verified our items' factor structure using confirmatory factor analysis (Anderson & Gerbing, 1988). The maximum likelihood estimation procedure was used to estimate model fit. Since item parcels have advantageous psychometric properties (e.g. greater normality), and models based on item parcels tend to be more parsimonious and reliable than are the items from which they are aggregated (Williams, 2008), we created parcels of items for all measures except for abusive supervision. Following the internal-consistency approach (Kishton & Widaman, 1994), the items assessing nine facets of job satisfaction were each regrouped into nine distinct parcels that were used as observed variables of the latent construct pertaining to job satisfaction. With respect to the psychological health and power distance, we used the random assignment procedure (Little, Cunningham, Shahar, & Widaman, 2002) to construct parcels, which assign each item to one of the parcel groupings randomly and without replacement. Thus, the 12 items of the psychological health measure were computed into three parcels, each including four items. Similarly, the six items of the power distance orientation measure were computed into three parcels of two items each.
Results of confirmatory factor analysis showed that the four-factor model fit the data very well (χ2 = 486.94, χ2/df = 2.97, CFI =.97, RMSEA =.05, AIC = 578.94). We also compared the hypothesised measurement model with a one-factor model in which all the parcels (items) loaded on a common factor (χ2 = 3287.09, χ2/df = 19.34, CFI =.74, RMSEA =.16, AIC = 3367.09). Results showed that the four-factor model fit the data better than the one-factor model (due to the lower AIC value of the hypothesised measurement model), which suggests that the hypothesised model fit the data better than the alternatives.
Moreover, we tested the convergent validity and discriminant validity of the measures. The results of confirmatory factor analysis showed that each observable indicator loaded significantly (p <.05) on its intended factor, supporting the convergent validity of scale items (Anderson & Gerbing, 1988). To examine discriminant validity, we compared the unconstrained measurement model with a series of models that each had constrained the correlation of one pair of constructs to be 1.00. A significant chi-square difference implies that the unconstrained model is a better fit for the data, thereby supporting the existence of discriminant validity (Anderson & Gerbing, 1988). Results showed that all chi-square differences were significant at the.01 level, indicating high discriminant validity.
The means, standard deviations, and correlations among the variables for Study 1 are presented in Table 1 below the diagonal.
Table 1. Descriptive Statistics for Study Variables
Notes: Correlations for Study 1 (N = 762) are presented below the diagonal, and those for Study 2 (N = 347) are presented above the diagonal.
Position was coded “1” for “line manager” and “2” for “factory worker”. Gender was coded “1” for men and “2” for women. AS = abusive supervision; PD = power distance; PH = psychological health; JS = job satisfaction.
As expected, abusive supervision was negatively correlated with psychological health (r = −.20, p <.01) and job satisfaction (r = −.36, p <.01), suggesting that the more abusive supervision employees experienced, the poorer well-being they had.
We used two separate three-step hierarchical multiple regression analyses (one for each outcome variable) to test our hypotheses. In the first step, demographic variables (i.e. age, gender, education, and tenure) were controlled. The main effects of abusive supervision and power distance orientation were entered in the second step. In the final step the multiplicative interaction term between abusive supervision and power distance orientation was entered to directly test the current hypothesis about the moderating effect. Following Aiken and West's (1991) suggestion, we centered all independent variables around zero by subtracting their mean. Results are presented in Table 2.
Table 2. Results of Hierarchical Regression Analysis of Psychological Health and Job Satisfaction on Abusive Supervision and Power Distance Orientation
Notes: Position was coded “1” for “line manager” and “2” for “factory worker”. Gender was coded “1” for men and “2” for women. AS = abusive supervision; PD = power distance; PH = psychological health; JS = job satisfaction.
Hierarchical regression analysis showed that abusive supervision was negatively related to psychological health (β = −.23, p <.01), meaning that the more supervisory abusive behaviors employees perceived, the worse their psychological health became. Abusive supervision was negatively related to job satisfaction (β = −.38, p <.01), suggesting that the more abusive supervision employees perceived, the less job satisfaction they experienced.
Table 2 also shows that power distance orientation significantly moderated each of the relationships between abusive supervision and employee well-being in the predicted direction (psychological health, β =.10, p <.05; and job satisfaction, β =.14, p <.01). These results demonstrated that negative relationships between abusive supervision and employee well-being are weaker for employees high rather than low in power distance orientation (see Figure 1).
We also used the online calculator developed by Preacher, Curran, and Bauer (2006) for probing interactions to estimate simple slopes describing the relationships between abusive supervision and employee well-being at varying levels of power distance. Specifically, high power distance was designated as 1 SD above the mean, average power distance was the mean, and low power distance was 1 SD below the mean. For mental health, the slope was significantly negative for the low power distance individuals (simple slope = −.09, p <.01) and average power distance individuals (simple slope = −.06, p <.01), but not significant for the high power distance individuals (simple slope = −.04, ns). For job satisfaction, the slope was larger for the low power distance individuals (simple slope = −.24, p <.01) and smaller for the high power distance individuals (simple slope = −.10, p <.01); the average fell in between (simple slope = −.17, p <.01). These results provided support for Hypotheses 1 and 2.
The results of this study were consistent with our expectations. However, some limitations of this study are worth mentioning. Study 1 is a single-time cross-sectional study, which may lead to common method bias. In addition, the homogeneity of the sample reduced the generalisability of our results. Thus, in Study 2 we conducted a constructive replication of this model. We used two-wave data collection to reduce the common method variance problem (Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Lee, & Podsakoff, 2003). Besides, we obtained data from a more heterogeneous sample to test the generalisability of our results in Study 1.
Participants and Procedure
This study was conducted in a number of organisations across several industries in China. The final sample included five IT companies, one real estate company, and one scientific research institute. The sample was randomly selected from different work units, job levels, age groups, and organisational tenure. We collected data in two phases, two weeks apart, to reduce the common method variance problem (Podsakoff et al., 2003). We used a code on the questionnaire to link the questionnaires from the two phases. The use of the codes allowed us to exclude participants' names, ensuring the confidential nature of the survey.
Four hundred questionnaires were distributed and 360 participants responded in the first survey and 347 participants responded in the second survey. The response rates were 90 per cent and 86.75 per cent for the two surveys. The final sample size is 347.
In this total sample, 49.57 per cent were male and the average age of the respondents was 27.23 years old (SD = 4.16). Approximately 99 per cent of the respondents had college education or above. The average length of organisational tenure was 4.39 years (SD = 4.17).
In the first time survey, participants reported their perceptions of abusive supervision, their own individual power distance orientation, and demographic information. In the second time survey two weeks later, participants described their psychological health status and job satisfaction.
The concepts in this study were measured with the same instruments as in Study 1 except for job satisfaction. For brevity, we used the six-item measure of job satisfaction developed by Tsui, Egan, and O'Reilly 1992). An example item is “Considering everything, I'm satisfied with my current job situation”. Each item required a response on a 7-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). As regards the measurement of the well-being variables, the internal consistencies of the psychological health (GHQ-12) and job satisfaction scale (Cronbach's α) were.89 and.86, respectively. For the perceptions of abusive supervision and power distance orientation, we found reliabilities of.94 and.81, respectively. Control variables in this study included age, gender, education, and tenure.
Results and Discussion
As in Study 1, we examined responses to the survey items using confirmatory factor analysis (Anderson & Gerbing, 1988). We created parcels of items for all measures except for abusive supervision using random assignment procedure (Little et al., 2002). The six items of the job satisfaction measure were computed into three parcels, each including two items. Items assessing psychological health and power distance were parceled in the same manner as in Study 1.
Results of confirmatory factor analysis showed that the four-factor model fit the data well (χ2 = 167.75, χ2/df = 2.36, CFI =.98, RMSEA =.06, AIC = 235.75). We again compared the hypothesised measurement model to a one-factor model in which all the parcels (items) loaded on a common factor (χ2 = 1985.63, χ2/df = 25.79, CFI =.74, RMSEA =.27, AIC = 2041.63). Moreover, due to the relatively high correlations between abusive supervision and power distance, as well as job satisfaction and psychological health, we also compared the hypothesised measurement model to two three-factor models which were specified in the same way as the four-factor model except that either the abusive supervision and power distance items loaded on the same factor (χ2 = 505.37, χ2/df = 6.83, CFI =.93, RMSEA =.13, AIC = 567.37) or the job satisfaction and psychological health items loaded on the same factor (χ2 = 468.14, χ2/df = 6.33, CFI =.94, RMSEA =.12, AIC = 530.14). The four-factor model fit the data better than the one-factor model and the two three-factor models (due to the lower AIC value of the hypothesised measurement model), which suggests that the hypothesised model fit the data better than the alternatives.
In addition, we tested the convergent validity and discriminant validity of the scales. Results showed that each indicator loaded significantly on its intended factor (p <.05), supporting the convergent validity (Anderson & Gerbing, 1988). Consistent with Study 1, a significantly lower χ2 value for the unconstrained models showed that discriminant validity was achieved.
Correlations among the variables for Study 2 are presented in Table 1 above the diagonal. Consistent with Study 1, abusive supervision was negatively associated with psychological health (r = −.39, p <.01) and job satisfaction (r = −.33, p <.01).
As in Study 1, multiple regression analyses were used to test our hypotheses. Results (see Table 2) showed that abusive supervision was negatively related to mental health (β = −.34, p <.01) and job satisfaction (β = −.28, p <.01). Results also showed that the interaction effect between abusive supervision and power distance orientation significantly predicted employees' mental health (β =.15, p <.01) and job satisfaction (β =.15, p <.01) (see Figure 2).
As in Study 1, we used the online calculator developed by Preacher et al. (2006) to estimate simple slopes describing the relationships between abusive supervision and employee well-being at varying levels of power distance. For mental health, the slope was larger for the low power distance individuals (simple slope = −.40, p <.01) and smaller for the high power distance individuals (simple slope = −.24, p <.01); the average fell in between (simple slope = −.32, p <.01). For job satisfaction, the slope was larger for the low power distance individuals (simple slope = −.43, p <.01) and smaller for the high power distance individuals (simple slope = −.23, p <.01); the average fell in between (simple slope = −.33, p <.01). These results again provided support for Hypothesis 1 and Hypothesis 2.
The goal of the current research was to expand past abusive supervision research by examining the degree to which a particular variable of individual cultural values, power distance orientation, moderated the relationships of abusive supervision with employee mental health and job satisfaction. As such, this research responds to calls to explore the role of cultural values as relevant factors in abusive supervision research (Aryee et al., 2008; Tepper, 2007). Using two independent samples with different research designs, our results demonstrate general support for our hypotheses.
The current research showed the moderating effect for power distance orientation, such that the relationships of abusive supervision with employee mental health and job satisfaction were weaker for those high in power distance orientation. These effects emerged in a cross-sectional study with employees from a manufacturing company and in a two-wave study with employees from several industries. These results thus provided evidence to support our arguments that subordinates who are lower in power distance orientation, rather than subordinates higher in power distance, are more influenced by abusive supervision, causing a more drastic negative effect on their mental health and job satisfaction.
We should notice that the mean levels of abusive supervision from the two samples are different. The mean level of abusive supervision that blue-collar employees (from a manufacturing company in Study 1, M = 3.03, SD = 1.29) experienced is higher than that of white-collar employees (from an IT company, real estate company, or scientific research institute in Study 2, M = 1.82, SD = 1.14). However, even with the different levels of abusive supervision, we found a consistent negative impact of abusive supervision and the consistent moderating effect of power distance orientation, which showed that our findings are relatively solid.
Furthermore, we made a comparison with research in the US. The mean level of abusive supervision in Mitchell and Ambrose's (2007) research with an American sample is 1.82 (SD = 1.30), lower than that in our Study 1 (M = 3.03, SD = 1.29) but equal to that in our Study 2 (M = 1.82, SD = 1.14). This shows that the abusive supervision that the Chinese white-collar sample encounters is similar to that of the US sample. Moreover, the mean level of power distance orientation in Botero and Dyne's (2009) research with an American sample is 2.35 (SD = 1.05), just a little bit lower than that in our research (M = 2.68, SD = 1.17 in Study 1, and M = 2.55, SD = 1.11 in Study 2), and the standard deviations of power distance are similar between Chinese and American samples. In addition, according to Carl, Gupta, and Javidan (2004), although there seem to be differences in the societal value (the aspirations and direction that cultures wish to develop) between the USA (M = 2.85; classified as “Band C”) and China (M = 3.10; classified as “Band B”), power distance as a societal practice (the current perceptions of the values of power) seems to be quite similar (USA: M = 4.88; China: M = 5.04; both were classified as “Band B”). These figures suggest that although China is a country with a high power distance culture, it still shares great similarity with the US in terms of the level and diversity of individual power distance orientation. This all provides evidence on the generalisability of our research.
This study makes several contributions to the existing body of literature. First, we examined how employees' values of power neutralised the impact of abusive supervision on employees' poor psychological health and job dissatisfaction. Although the moderating effect of cultural values had been confirmed in some previous research (Farh et al., 2007; Lian, Ferris, & Brown, 2012), to our knowledge it is the first time the interaction effect of power distance orientation and abusive supervision on employees' well-being has been examined. We expanded the content domain of abusive supervision research by demonstrating the moderating effect of power distance orientation. The results suggest that in future research, taking fundamental values held by employees into account will contribute to a better understanding of the impact of abusive supervision.
Second, although previous research showed that power distance was linked to undesirable outcomes (Carl et al., 2004; Farh et al., 2007; Kirkman et al., 2009), our results provide a new perspective that power distance, as a type of cultural value, serves an adaptive function that helps employees resist supervisory abusive behaviors and suffer less psychological strain. To our knowledge, it is the first to examine the adaptive function of the stress resilience of power distance.
Third, Lian et al. (2012) had conducted research demonstrating that power distance orientation mitigates the relationship between abusive supervision and employees' perceptions of interpersonal justice, which focuses more on the effect of power distance in dealing with interpersonal relationships. The current research complements Lian and colleagues' (2012) findings by extending the moderating role of power distance on the well-being-related outcome, which focuses more on power distance's adaptive effect in maintaining positive self. Specifically, while abusive supervision is viewed worldwide as poor management, employees can develop and hold a particular kind of cultural value, that is, power distance, as a cognitive strategy to explain the situation they face, so as to reduce the negative effect of abusive supervision and maintain psychological well-being.
The current research also provides some guidance for managerial practice. Since employees' mental health is a significant cost burden in the workplace, while job satisfaction is closely related to performance and retention, exploring factors that can neutralise the negative effect of deviant organisational behaviors on employees' well-being is very important. Our research showed that power distance orientation can buffer the negative impact of abusive supervision, which then lessens their suffering from psychological discomfort and job dissatisfaction. Accordingly, we offer two practical implications of our results. The first implication is that because abusive supervision leads to employees' poor mental health and job dissatisfaction, we should make every effort to reduce the occurrence of abusive supervisory behavior in organisations. For example, supervisors could undertake management skills training to learn the proper way to handle and interact with subordinates. Organisations could provide and encourage supervisors to take leadership development programs that aim at modifying and correcting any deviant behaviors in order to ensure that supervisors engage in appropriate management practices.
The second implication is that, when employees are exposed to superiors' prolonged abusive actions, leaders' abusive behavior especially toward followers who are lower in power distance orientation should be more carefully monitored in order to help reduce impairment of followers' well-being. Using surveys, organisations can obtain information from employees concerning their evaluation of power. Once abusive supervision occurs in the organisation, interventions towards employees who encounter such a stressful situation, especially those with lower power distance orientation, can be conducted so as to attenuate their psychological strains.
Limitations and Directions for Future Research
Several limitations and directions for future studies should be addressed. First, the research focused exclusively on outcomes relevant to employees' well-being to examine the adaptive functions of power distance. Although we tested our hypotheses using two types of well-being (i.e. psychological health and job satisfaction), the findings need to be examined using other outcomes to further confirm their generalisability. Second, as all data were collected from the same source, the current research is not free from problems associated with common method variance. However, according to Schaubroeck and Jones (2000), common method variance is unlikely to result in statistical interactions, which are the main focus of this study. In addition, we used a two-wave study to reduce possible common method variance and replicated our findings. Thus, we believe common method variance was not a major factor in our findings. Third, the cross-sectional design of our study would make it difficult to determine the direction of causality. Thus, in future research scholars should attempt to use a longitudinal research design or experimental design to examine this issue. Fourth, although our research focused on the moderating role of power distance at the individual level, it is still not clear whether this type of cultural value has a similar moderating effect at the country level. Further test using cross-cultural study is needed to clarify this moderating effect.
Abusive supervision has been seen as a significant social problem which impacts followers' mental health and job satisfaction. The present study contributes to a more culturally nuanced theory of abusive supervision by showing that the moderating effects of followers' power distance orientation help explain followers' reactions to abusive supervision. The findings suggest that focusing on fundamental values held by employees led to a better understanding of the impact of leaders' deviant behaviors. In addition, the interaction of leadership and values held by followers in relation to employee reactions provides an interesting area that needs further exploration in order to enhance our understanding of when and how leaders affect those they lead.