All stressors are not bad: an affect-based model of role overload — the supervisor-level antecedent of abusive supervision

Hussain Tariq, Abdullah Almashayekhi, Ahsan Ali, Muhammad Burhan, Hira Parvez Butt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: Expanding on the research of the antecedents of abusive supervision, this study aims to explore supervisor role overload as a supervisor-level predictor of abusive supervision. Based on transactional stress theory, the authors investigate role overload that is appraised as a challenge or a hindrance stressor by supervisors, leading to pleasant or unpleasant feelings, respectively. The authors propose that, based on their appraisal, these feelings of supervisors act as a mediating mechanism that can facilitate or inhibit their abusive behaviour at work. Additionally, the authors posit emotional intelligence (EI) as a key moderator in helping supervisors manage the negative feelings arising from perceiving role overload as a hindrance and preventing them from demonstrating abusive supervision. Design/methodology/approach: To test the proposed moderated mediation model, the authors collected two-wave data from middle-level supervisors or managers from several organisations located in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia (N = 990). Findings: The results largely support the hypothesised relationships and show that depending on supervisor appraisal, role overload can generate pleasant or unpleasant feelings in supervisors and, consequently, impede or facilitate abusive supervision. They also shed light on the moderating effect of EI, in that supervisors scoring high on EI are better equipped to deal with unpleasant feelings arising from role overload and effectively manage their workplace behaviour, that is, to avoid abusive behaviours. Originality/value: Role overload can have different impacts on employees: on the one hand, there is a potential for growth, which entails drive and enthusiasm; on the other hand, it could feel like an unsurmountable mountain for employees, leading to different forms of anxiety. Because what we feel is what we project onto others, supervisors experiencing unpleasant feelings cannot be the best leader they can be; even worse, they can become a source of negativity by displaying destructive behaviours such as abusive supervision. The corollary of something as minor as an interaction with a leader experiencing unpleasant feelings could have a ripple effect and lead to adverse outcomes for organisations and their employees. This study explores the different perceptions of role overload and the subsequent feelings coming from those perceptions as supervisor-level predictors of abusive supervision. While it is not possible to objectively put a different lens inside the minds of supervisors when they face stressors at work, to feel pleasant or unpleasant, they can be trained to manage their negative feelings and keep their behaviours in check. Particularly, training managers to be more emotionally intelligent can help them not only achieve growth by overcoming challenges at work but also acknowledge and adapt their feelings to keep their behaviours in the workplace positive. In practical terms, this research can provide organisations with the knowledge required to nip the problem of abusive supervision in the bud, as prevention is always better than cure.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)545-569
Number of pages25
JournalInternational Journal of Conflict Management
Issue number3
Early online date21 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - 28 Apr 2023


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