Social Support for Abusive Supervision: A Model of Resource Substitution for Abused Subordinates



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Research that examines abusive supervision attests to myriad negative effects for subordinates. Faced with this difficult reality, evidence suggests that abused subordinates frequently seek out and receive social support. However, previous studies provide mixed support for the effectiveness of social support for abusive supervision. Here, I integrate Conservation of Resources Theory with social support theories to create an overall model meant to explain how social support can help abused subordinates by providing resource substitutes. More specifically, I theorize that certain types of high-quality social support moderate (i.e., buffer) corresponding outcomes of abusive supervision. In Studies 1 and 2, an eight-dimension measure of high-quality social support for abusive supervision was developed based on relevant theory. This model was validated in two independent samples of full-time employees who had experienced abusive supervision and received support (n = 246, 257). The measure demonstrated strong psychometric properties as well as convergent and discriminant validity. In Study 3, a similar sample (n = 317) allowed for a test of the full theoretical model; participants responded to the final measure of social support for abusive supervision and other measures related to abusive supervision across three time points. Results showed that high-quality esteem support moderated relationships between abusive supervision and work-related negative affect, and between abusive supervision and organization-based self-esteem (conditional upon self-directed attributions). Study 3 further demonstrated that – contrary to the relevant prediction – advice that is high in perceived efficacy is associated with increased workplace deviance. Collectively, these findings establish a foundation for further research on social support for abusive supervision and by extension, social support for other workplace stressors.