Abusive supervision: A systematic review and fundamental rethink

Thomas Fischer, Amy Wei Tian, Allan Lee, David J. Hughes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We report a systematic and critical review of abusive supervision research to provide a comprehensive catalogue of the correlates of abusive supervision (i.e., antecedents, outcomes, mediators, and moderators) and identify four major challenges facing the field. First, abusive supervision is conceptualized in a confused manner that conflates followers’ subjective evaluations of abuse with leaders’ behaviors. Second, we consider how conceptual confusion is reflected in and undermines dominant measurement tools. Third, we identify and critique overreliance on cross-sectional survey-based studies and vignette experiments, which vary considerably in the extent to which they can evidence causal effects. Fourth, we consider the fact that abusive supervision is a low base rate phenomenon (i.e., is rarely reported). Using novel and simulated data we demonstrate that most past research is ill-equipped to make claims about the effects of intermediate or high levels of abusive supervision. Throughout, we explain how each challenge limits past research and offer achievable recommendations for a fundamental rethink of abusive supervision. In the discussion, we synthesize the recommendations for rethinking the conceptualization, measurement, and empirical study of abusive supervision. Only by overcoming these challenges will future research be robust enough to provide meaningful theoretical advances and useful policy implications.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101540
JournalLeadership Quarterly
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • Abusive supervision
  • Construct validity
  • Follower evaluations
  • Leader behaviors
  • Measurement


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