Are “Bad” Employees Happier Under Bad Bosses? Differing Effects of Abusive Supervision on Low and High Primary Psychopathy Employees

Journal of Business Ethics 158 (4):1149-1164 (2019)
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Abstract

Psychopathy is typically seen as a trait that is undesirable in any context, including the workplace. But several authors have suggested that people high in psychopathy might possess resources that preserve their ability to perform well in stressful contexts. We consider the possibility that primary psychopathy is adaptive—for the employee, if not for the organization—under conditions of abusive supervision. In particular, we draw from the multimotive model of interpersonal threat and the theory of purposeful work behavior to argue that high primary psychopathy individuals possess characteristics that enable them to experience higher levels of well-being and lower levels of anger than their peers under abusive supervisors. Based on a scenario study and a time-lagged field study, we found support for a model in which abusive supervision moderates the relationships between primary psychopathy and positive work-related outcomes, such that these relationships are positive under conditions of abusive supervision and either diminished or negative under conditions of low abusive supervision. Abusive supervision also affected the relationship between primary psychopathy and anger in the field study such that high primary psychopathy individuals were less angry under more abusive supervisors. Thus, there appears to be some credence to the notion of a “psychopathic advantage” in that primary psychopaths do have access to greater psychological resources than their peers under abusive supervision. However, these findings also suggest that abusive supervisors may empower employees with characteristics that hold strong potential to damage the organization and its stakeholders.

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