When Core Self-Evaluations Influence Employees’ Deviant Reactions to Abusive Supervision: The Moderating Role of Cognitive Ability

Viewing workplace deviance within a victim precipitation framework, we explore how abusive supervisors target subordinates low in core self-evaluations (CSE) to explain when such employees respond by engaging in workplace deviance. We theorize that employees who are lower in CSE receive more abusive supervision, which generates subsequent harmful reactions toward supervisors, peers, and the organization. This occurs primarily when employees lack sufficient cognitive resources in dealing with supervisor abuse. We test, replicate, and extend our theoretical model in three empirical studies. Results demonstrate that lower employee CSE drew more abusive supervision and led low-CSE employees to exhibit workplace deviance. This abusive supervision mediation effect was stronger for employees with comparatively lower cognitive ability levels. The findings are discussed with regard to theoretical and ethical issues in confronting employee abuse.