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Should I stand up for my abused colleague? When and why high status team members stand up to observed abusive supervision

Gencay, Oguz; Derfler-Rozin, Rellie; Arman, Gamze


Oguz Gencay

Rellie Derfler-Rozin


Abusive supervision, defined as a supervisor’s sustained display of hostile verbal and nonverbal behaviors toward employees, is ubiquitous in organizations (Tepper, 2000). As a normatively inappropriate supervisory style (Palanski et al., 2014), it creates an environment that has negative implications on victims as well as those around them (e.g., Dhanani & LaPalme, 2019; Mackey et al., 2017). In an effort to point at a potential remedy for such situation of an abusive supervision, it has been suggested that coworkers (as third-party observers), can be a part of the solution by standing up for the victims (i.e., “defending the victim against the supervisor, or siding with the victim in abusive situations”; Priesemuth, 2013, p. 1226). However, not all coworkers are likely to stand up to the supervisors, as such behavior carries potential risks such as retaliation from the supervisor (e.g., Hu & Liu, 2017). One might assume that high status coworkers (i.e., those who are respected, admired, and given prestige by others in the team; Anderson et al., 2001) might be able to overcome these risks and stand up to an abusive supervisor because they have the social capital to be change agents (e.g., enhanced rights, more interpersonal influence; Anderson et al., 2015). However, the extant research is not clear on whether and when they would, in fact, stand up for victims of abusive supervision.
On the one hand, as stated, high status coworkers might be more likely to stand up as they not only have higher social capital but also are better perspective takers (Blader et al., 2016) and more conscious about justice (Blader & Chen, 2011). On the other hand, high status coworkers are also part of a social status quo that benefits them, which may make them apprehensive about shaking such status quo. Thus, they might rationalize the existing status quo (system justification theory; Kay & Jost, 2003). Additionally, these individuals might perceive threats for standing up (such as retaliation and denial of tangible resources from them by supervisors; Hu & Liu, 2017), which can trigger resource protection concerns to maintain their standing (e.g., Schaerer et al., 2021; Anderson, 2020). Accordingly, empirical research directly or indirectly showed either no effect (e.g., Bowles & Gelfand, 2010), positive (e.g., Weiss & Morrison, 2019), or negative (e.g., Kennedy & Anderson, 2017) relationships between observers’ status markers and various forms of standing up.
To reconcile these divergent theoretical perspectives and inconclusive findings, we draw from self-affirmation theory (Sherman & Cohen, 2006) and argue that a high status holder’s decision to stand up or not will be determined at least partially by levels of self-protection concerns. Furthermore, we posit that these self-protection concerns depend on whether the high status individual has consistently high status across the other groups they belong to (i.e., low status variance; Fernandes et al., 2021), which can provide affirmations to the individual to reduce these concerns. In other words, we expect high status holders with a consistent high status outside of the focal work group (i.e., low status variance) would experience less self-protection concerns; in turn, they would be more likely to stand up for victims (compared to high status observes with high variance of status across groups they belong to who may be experiencing more self-protection concerns).


Gencay, O., Derfler-Rozin, R., & Arman, G. (2023, August). Should I stand up for my abused colleague? When and why high status team members stand up to observed abusive supervision. Paper presented at 83rd Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management, Boston, USA

Presentation Conference Type Conference Paper (unpublished)
Conference Name 83rd Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management
Conference Location Boston, USA
Start Date Aug 4, 2023
End Date Aug 8, 2023
Deposit Date Feb 21, 2024
Public URL