Can two wrongs make a right? The buffering effect of retaliation on subordinate well-being following abusive supervision

J Occup Health Psychol. 2022 Feb;27(1):37-52. doi: 10.1037/ocp0000291. Epub 2021 Jul 22.


Subordinates who are abused by a supervisor tend to experience violated perceptions of interpersonal justice and deteriorated well-being. One way in which they may seek to cope with these consequences is by engaging in retaliatory behaviors intended to "get back" at their supervisor and even the score. Based on research suggesting that acts of retaliation can restore perceptions of justice, we propose a model whereby retaliation alleviates the effect of abusive supervision on subordinate well-being by restoring subordinates' interpersonal justice perceptions. In two studies, using multiwave (Study 1) and time-lagged (Study 2) designs, we found general support for our predictions, even when controlling for the alternative mechanism of victim identity and subordinates' baseline well-being. These results suggest that retaliation reduces the harmful consequences of supervisory abuse on well-being not only in the short term but also in the long run. Theoretical and practical implications surrounding this increased understanding of the effectiveness of retaliation as a strategy for coping with the effects of abusive supervision over time are discussed. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Humans
  • Social Justice*
  • Social Perception*