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Abusive supervision, work engagement and burnout: Does employee trait mindfulness buffer the effects of leader abuse?

Job demands and job resources can motivate employees to perform at their best; however, when leadership is no longer considered a job resource and instead becomes a job demand, employees can experience an imbalance leading to negative outcomes. The current research body is well equipped with empirical evidence supporting the relationships between abusive supervision – a hostile and destructive leadership style – and these negative outcomes. Despite this, the majority of this research has used single-sourced correlation and cross-sectional research designs – creating a single-source method bias. As such, little research has been dedicated to understanding the effect on employee work engagement and burnout from this abuse overtime. This study aimed to bridge the gap in the knowledge base by comparing data from two timepoints. Furthermore, employee trait mindfulness has yet to be explored as a personal resource moderating these relationships and so the current study aimed to examine this. Drawing on 318 employees from matched Time 1 and Time 2 data, the current research set out to (1) determine the longitudinal effects of abusive supervision on employee work engagement and burnout levels and (2) assess the role of employee trait mindfulness in these relationships, assessing where in the relationship this personal resource would likely cause a buffering influence. To analyse this, data were collected using self-report questionnaires at two timepoints, four weeks apart. The results of the study find, longitudinally, that abusive supervision plays a negative role in employee work engagement and burnout levels. The results suggest that employees who are experiencing abusive supervision are more likely to report lower levels of work engagement and higher levels of burnout overtime. While direct effects of mindfulness on engagement and burnout were found, moderation analyses indicated that trait mindfulness did not have a buffering effect on the negative outcomes of abusive supervision. Employees’ levels of mindfulness did not have an impact on the levels of work engagement and burnout experienced due to abusive supervision overtime. This might suggest that mindfulness does not provide enough in terms of employee personal resources needed to overcome the job demand of abuse by a leader. It is thought that abuse may limit an employee’s ability to be mindful due to the depletion of cognitive resources drained via abuse and thus mindfulness is unable to buffer the effects of the abuse. Future research may wish to consider whether mindfulness provides more of a buffer closer to when the outcomes of abuse are experienced due to the acceptance tendencies that mindfulness provides. This opens the research body up to a number of research opportunities, including examining the boundary conditions of mindfulness in the face of abusive supervision.
Type of thesis
Powell, B. (2020). Abusive supervision, work engagement and burnout: Does employee trait mindfulness buffer the effects of leader abuse? (Thesis, Master of Applied Psychology (MAppPsy)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/13556
The University of Waikato
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