Service Employees’ Reactions to Mistreatment by Customers: A Comparison Between North America and East Asia


  • This research was conducted as part of Ruodan Shao's doctoral dissertation under the supervision of Daniel P. Skarlicki at the University of British Columbia. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2011 Academy of Management conference, San Antonio, Texas.

  • This research was supported by grants from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada awarded to both authors as well as the Inter-University Research Centre on Globalization and Work (CRIMT) Studentship and International Exchange Fund awarded to Ruodan Shao. The authors thank Maria L. Kraimer and the two anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments on the earlier versions of our manuscript. We appreciate the helpful suggestions from Kwok Leung, Mo Wang, and D. Lance Ferris on drafts of this paper.


The authors proposed that customer service employees’ reactions to mistreatment by customers can vary between North American and East Asian employees due to differences in their cultural values. Customer mistreatment was predicted to be associated with direct, active, and target-specific reactions (i.e., sabotage directed toward the source of mistreatment) more so among North American employees as compared to East Asian employees. In contrast, customer mistreatment was predicted to relate to more indirect, passive, and target-general reactions (i.e., withdraw organizational citizenship behavior directed toward customers in general) among employees in East Asia as compared to employees in North America. A field study of customer service employees (N = 213) working in the same hotel chain in China and Canada found support for these predictions. Mediation analyses showed that individualism and collectivism accounted for these differences. Theoretical and practical implications are provided, and future directions are discussed.