The mediating roles of supervisor anger and envy in linking subordinate performance to abusive supervision : A curvilinear examination

Yolanda Na LI*, Kenneth S. LAW, Melody Jun ZHANG, Ming YAN*

*Corresponding author for this work

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


This research aims to understand why both low and high subordinate performance can induce abusive supervision. Drawing on the framework of affective events theory and research on anger and envy, we posit that low performance incurs abuse due to supervisor anger, whereas high performance elicits abuse due to supervisor envy. More specifically, subordinate performance has a decreasing curvilinear relationship with supervisor anger (i.e., a negative effect that gradually dissipates) and an increasing curvilinear relationship with supervisor envy (i.e., a positive effect that gradually emerges). Through supervisor anger and envy, subordinate performance therefore presents different curvilinear indirect relationships with abusive supervision. The results from two vignette-based experiments and a multiwave, multisource field study support these hypotheses. We further find that supervisor comparison orientation augments the curvilinear emergence of supervisor envy and ensuing abuse in response to higher subordinate performance. However, regardless of their level of performance orientation, supervisors are prone to higher anger and subsequent abusive supervision in response to lower subordinate performance.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Applied Psychology
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 Oct 2023

Bibliographical note

An earlier version of this article has been presented in 2015 Academy of Management Annual Meeting. Yolanda Na Li acknowledges the financial support from Research Grants Council of Hong Kong (Project Number 23501920). Ming Yan’s work is supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China (Project Number 71922011) and the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (Project Number 23JNLH07).


  • subordinate performance
  • supervisor emotions
  • abusive supervision
  • performance orientation
  • comparison orientation


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