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New Publication on Abusive Supervision at Work

Published: 22-06-2021

Abused followers would often be better off if they were able to end the abusive relationship. Yet, doing so can be extremely difficult and many people end up being trapped at work with an abusive supervisor. In this paper, we (Kimberley Breevaart, Barbara Wisse, & Birgit Schyns) examine what makes it so hard for followers to leave and as such, what enables the abuse to continue over time. Specifically, we address barriers that prevent followers from escaping an abusive supervisory relationship on a societal (e.g., laws), organizational (e.g., organizational policies and practices), and personal level (e.g., beliefs and values), and explain how these barriers can be overcome. Boudewijn Wisse designed the model.

The article can be found here.



While research on abusive supervision is thriving, we still know very little about the sustained nature of the phenomenon. Additionally, most papers focusing on the prolonged character of the detrimental relational dynamic take a within-dyad perspective, largely ignoring within-person, group or other external influences. Addressing these gaps in the literature, we introduce the Barriers Model of Abusive Supervision. This model posits a hierarchically organized set of obstacles that make it difficult for followers to escape the abusive supervisor, explaining why abuse can continue over long periods of time. Specifically, we present an onion-shaped model in which the follower has a central position with each subsequent layer representing a more external cluster of barriers to leaving the abusive supervisor. Ranging from external to internal, these layers are: Barriers in the larger societal context (Layer 1; e.g., ambiguous laws), barriers in the organizational context (Layer 2; e.g., unclear policies), barriers due to the abusive supervisor (Layer 3; e.g., isolating followers), and barriers within the abused follower (Layer 4; e.g., implicit leadership theories). We hope that our model inspires future research on the sustained nature of abusive supervision and provides practitioners with the necessary background information to help abused followers escape their supervisors.