Supervisory Abuse of High Performers: A Social Comparison Perspective

Hussain Tariq, Qingxiong Weng, Remus Ilies, Abdul Karim Khan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)


Prior research linking employee performance to abusive supervision suggests that supervisors have instrumental and non-instrumental reasons for engaging in abuse while dealing with low performers in the workplace. Drawing on social comparison theory, we argue that high-performing subordinates can make supervisors envious, which in turn leads to abusive supervisory behavior. Furthermore, we hypothesize supervisor social comparison orientation as a key boundary condition for the indirect positive effect of subordinate performance on abusive supervision through supervisor envy; that is, supervisors are more likely to abuse high performers when the supervisors’ social comparison orientation is high. A multi-source, multi-wave field study was conducted with data collected from supervisor-subordinate dyads (N = 95 supervisors and 385 subordinates). The data supported a positive indirect effect of employee performance on abusive supervision through supervisor envy. Moreover, the indirect effect was statistically significant for supervisors with high social comparison orientation but it was not significant for supervisors with low social comparison orientation. Implications of these findings for reducing abusive supervision are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)280-310
Number of pages31
JournalApplied Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Applied Psychology


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