Representational predicaments at work : how they are experienced and why they may happen

Robin Stanley SNELL, May Mei-ling WONG, Almaz Man-kuen CHAK, Sandy Suk-kwan HUI

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Representational predicaments reflect unfavorable perceptual or attributional incongruence between subordinates and superiors about the employees’ work, and adversely affect morale. Critical incident interviews were held with 63 Hong Kong Chinese employees from over 50 organizations. Stories about undervaluation of contextual performance were compared with stories about duly appreciated contextual performance, and stories about negative spotlighting (disproportionate emphasis on shortcomings or mistakes) were compared with stories about fair treatment of mistakes. Subordinates attributed undervaluation of contextual performance to: the superior’s unfamiliarity with the employee’s work, the superior’s perception that the work was of marginal importance, the subordinate’s lack of empowerment to report contextual performance, the lack of considerate attention by the superior, and the subordinate’s felt need to keep a low profile. Underlying factors were inhibitions against employee voice, leadership styles characterized by lack of benevolence and lack of individualized consideration, and absence of close subordinate-superior relationships. Subordinates attributed negative spotlighting to: the superior’s abusive behavior, prejudicial and hostile attitudes, or insistence on one “right way”; rivalry between the superior and the subordinate; and the absence of legitimate channels for upward feedback. Underlying factors were absence of just grievance procedures, and leadership styles characterized by authoritarianism, which could be compounded by lack of benevolence and lack of moral restraint, leading to abusive supervision. Cross-cultural research could establish whether large power distance and other cultural and institutional factors render Asian employees especially vulnerable to representational predicaments.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)251-279
Number of pages29
JournalAsia Pacific Journal of Management
Issue number1
Early online date17 Feb 2012
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2013


  • Invisibility
  • Justice
  • Leadership
  • Qualitative
  • Representational predicaments


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