Righting a wrong: Retaliation on a voodoo doll symbolizing an abusive supervisor restores justice

Elsevier, The Leadership Quarterly, Volume 29, Issue 4, 2018, Pages 443-456.
Authors: 
Lindie H. Liang, Douglas J. Brown, Huiwen Lian, Samuel Hanig, D. Lance Ferris and Lisa M. Keeping

When a subordinate receives abusive treatment from a supervisor, a natural response is to retaliate against the supervisor. Although retaliation is dysfunctional and should be discouraged, we examine the potential functional role retaliation plays in terms of alleviating the negative consequences of abusive supervision on subordinate justice perceptions. Based on the notion that retaliation following mistreatment can restore justice for victims, we propose a model whereby retaliation following abusive supervision alleviates the negative effect of abusive supervision on subordinate justice perceptions. In two experimental studies (Study 1 and 2), whereby we manipulated abusive supervision and subordinate symbolic retaliation—in particular, harming a voodoo doll that represents the abusive supervisor—we found general support for our predictions. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.