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Abusive supervision and
knowledge sharing: moderating
roles of Islamic work ethic and
learning goal orientation
Institute of Business Administration, University of the Punjab, Lahore, Pakistan
Graduate School of Business and Law, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia
Department of Management, Central Queensland University –Melbourne Campus,
Melbourne, Australia, and
Department of Information Management, University of the Punjab, Lahore, Pakistan
Purpose –The purpose of this paper is to extend the scant literature on the effect of abusive supervision on
knowledge sharing by examining the roles of Islamic work ethic and learning goal orientation in moderating
Design/methodology/approach –This paper utilizes a cross-lagged survey research design to collect data
from 735 employees working in the services and manufacturing sectors of Pakistan.
Findings –The data analysis revealed that abusive supervision has a damaging effect on knowledge sharing
in the workplace. However, employee learning goal orientation and the Islamic work ethic help in mitigating
this detrimental effect.
Research limitations/implications –The main theoretical implication is to advance knowledge on the
boundary conditions that help in mitigating the undesirable effect of abusive supervision on sharing of
knowledge in organizational settings.
Practical implications –This paper provides practical insights into mitigating the damaging effects of
abusive supervision, a prevalent issue in Asian societies, through the lenses of Islamic business ethics and
learning goal orientation.
Originality/value –This is the first study that examines the boundary conditions placed by the Islamic work
ethic and learning goal orientation around the relationship between abusive supervision and knowledge
sharing in the context of Pakistan.
Keywords Learning goal orientation, Islamic work ethic, Abusive leadership, Knowledge sharing
Paper type Research paper
Knowledge sharing (KS) in organizations is recognized as a crucial success factor for
improving business performance and sustainability (Kremer et al., 2019). KS is a two-way
process that involves individual behaviors related to sharing and learning of task-related
information and ideas with colleagues and supervisors to effectively accomplish the
organizational objectives (Kim et al., 2015). A growing body of research supports the
significance of KS, because such behaviors have been linked to an organization’s ability to
successfully obtain a competitive edge (Kim et al., 2015). Likewise, positive effects of KS on
team creativity and business innovation have been reported (Jahanzeb et al., 2019).
We are thankful to the reviewers for their valuable suggestions.
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Received 16 August 2019
Revised 22 December 2019
1 March 2020
20 April 2020
Accepted 13 May 2020
© Emerald Publishing Limited
This highlights the significance of a focused examination of the factors impacting KS
behavior amongst employees.
While much of the extant literature has examined individual and organizational factors
that promote KS (Jiang and Gu, 2016), research into the barriers of KS remains limited
(Wu and Lee, 2016;Javed et al., 2019;Kim et al., 2015). For example, many studies support the
influence of positive leadership styles in improving KS (Han et al., 2016;Le and Lei, 2018;
Yadav et al., 2019), whereas only a few studies explore the influence of destructive leadership
on KS (see, e.g. Feng and Wang, 2019;Khalid et al., 2018, for exceptions). Progress in the
theory requires an in-depth understanding not only of the factors that boost KS but also those
that impede it, so that efforts can be made to offset them. In regard to impeding factors, recent
studies have shown that abusive supervision, a form of destructive leadership, seriously
impedes KS (Feng and Wang, 2019). Abusive supervision is conceptualized as a destructive
leadership behavior that represents the extent to which employees perceive their supervisors
have engaged in a sustained display of insolent and hostile nonphysical behaviors at work
(Tepper, 2000). It is a prevalent problem in contemporary organizations that is positively
associated with knowledge hiding in the workplace (Feng and Wang, 2019;Khalid et al., 2018;
Zweig and Scott, 2018). The present study offers an in-depth understanding of the influence of
abusive supervision on KS through a focus on identifying boundary conditions in their
relationship. We focus on abusive supervision because supervisors are often the
organizational decision-makers; hence it is important to examine how their actions
influence positive and discretionary behaviors in the workplace (such as KS).
Specifically, this paper examines the roles of the Islamic work ethic (IWE, which
represents individuals’dedication to work as a virtue) and learning goal orientation (LGO,
which refers to individuals’orientation toward acquiring knowledge, competencies and new
skills) in moderating the effect of abusive supervision on KS. We focus on these two factors
because research shows that specific individual orientations moderate the influence of
organizational factors on work behavior (Jahanzeb et al., 2019;Kim et al., 2016). For example,
the theoretical underpinnings of the IWE explain that individuals are generally motivated to
acquire knowledge and cooperate with coworkers (Javed et al., 2019;Khalid et al., 2018;
Murtaza et al., 2016). Similarly, LGO explains an individual’s general tendency to learn new
ideas and acquire new skills in a social setting (Bandura, 1977). In such circumstances, it is
argued, the effect of abusive supervision on KS will differ.
More specifically still, this paper presents the results of an empirical study that was
undertaken to test this perspective by obtaining data from real-work settings in the context of
Pakistan. This specific context provides an appropriate setting to conduct the current study,
because the country’s high power distance culture makes abusive supervision more likely
(Vogel et al., 2015). In doing so, this paper contributes to knowledge on mitigating the adverse
effects of abusive supervision through a deeper understanding of individuals’orientations
toward ethics and learning.
This paper is structured as follows. First, a review of the key concepts and theories for this
research is provided before presenting development of research hypotheses. Second, the
research data and methods are described. Third, analysis and interpretation of the study’s
results are presented. Finally, the implications of this study’s results are discussed.
Literature review and hypotheses development
Abusive supervision and KS. Knowledge is recognized as a vital organizational resource, and
KS as a key ingredient for organizational success (Choi, Kim and Yun, 2019). To date,
extensive efforts have been devoted to understanding the antecedents of KS. Research has
shown that personality traits, organizational commitment and trust are important individual-
level antecedents of KS (Wu and Lee, 2016;Kim et al., 2016). Likewise, organizational culture,
human resources (HR) support and reward systems have been identified as organizational-
level antecedents of KS (Liu and Liu, 2011;Wu and Lee, 2016). It has been revealed that
employees’decisions about KS largely depend on how they are treated by coworkers,
and especially leaders, in the workplace (Choi et al., 2019). Consequently, a number of
studies have focused on leadership styles as antecedents of KS (Srivastava et al., 2006;
Bavik et al., 2018).
One particularly destructive form of leadership known as abusive supervision has been
recently identified as an antecedent of KS (Choi et al., 2019;Feng and Wang, 2019). Abusive
supervision is prevalent in organizations worldwide (Aryee et al., 2008). It significantly lowers
employee discretionary work behaviors, such as organizational citizenship behavior
(Lyu et al., 2016), and increases employee turnover and deviant work behavior (Agarwal,
2019;Aryee et al., 2008;Han et al., 2016;Javed et al., 2019;Pradhan and Jena, 2017;Yang et al.,
2019). Abusive supervision has also been associated with eliciting other forms of negative
attitudes and behaviors in employees such as psychological distress and emotional
exhaustion (Martinko et al., 2013;Tepper, 2000;Peltokorpi, 2019). Since supervisors generally
perform important responsibilities in organizations, including decision-making, it is
important to examine how their behavior affects KS in the workplace.
This influence can be examined in the light of the norm of reciprocity, according to which,
when one behaves well toward others, one expects to receive a similar kind of treatment from
others in return (see also Gouldner, 1960). Drawing on this perspective, Cropanzano and
Mitchell (2005) explain the notion of negative reciprocity in the case of adverse treatment at
work (e.g. abusive supervision). The present study applied this notion to understanding the
relationship between abusive supervision and KS in order to argue that employees exposed to
supervisory abuse may negatively reciprocate this behavior by not sharing knowledge. This
is because a direct negative reciprocation of the supervisor’s behaviors and actions will be
challenging for the targeted employee because of his/her superior authority (Cropanzano and
Mitchell, 2005). In such situations, individuals are more likely to engage in organizational
deviance (Javed et al., 2019). Organizational deviance exemplifies behaviors such as work
sabotage, absenteeism, lying, theft and spreading malicious rumors (Kirrane et al., 2019;
Agarwal, 2019). Similarly, employees may reciprocate more passively by withholding
sharing of important information and knowledge that benefit the supervisor and other
organizational representatives in order to assuage the pain they themselves experience from
the abuse. Indeed, recent research has linked abusive supervision with knowledge hiding
behavior (Feng and Wang, 2019). This leads to our first hypothesis:
H1. Abusive supervision may negatively impact employee KS behaviors.
In view of these grave consequences of abusive supervision, it is important to examine factors
that can moderate or buffer the negative impact (Kirrane et al., 2019). In this regard, Kim et al.
(2016) noted that individual-level orientations may interact with the process of how
employees are affected by abusive supervision. We therefore examine whether the IWE and
LGO influence the effect of abusive supervision on KS in the following sections.
The moderating role of IWE
IWE has emerged as a “comprehensive, moderate and realistic”branch of work ethics that is
based on the “divine command theory”and uses religion to identify ethical behavior
(bin Salahudin et al., 2016, p. 582). Specifically, IWE is grounded in the ethical perspective of
Islam, which contributes a distinct perspective to the field of the work ethic and associated
decision-making, in comparison to the “industrial capitalism”-based Western perspective
(Ali and Al-Owaihan, 2008). According to Ali and Al-Owaihan (2008), Max Weber’s seminal
essay on The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism sparked scholarly interest on
the work ethic in the context of religion in the Western world. The authors note that the
Western perspective on the work ethic is largely influenced by values and beliefs held by the
European society, in particular those associated with industrial capitalism, and differs from
the values and beliefs held by other societies (p. 5). They demonstrate this notion further by
reflecting on Confucian and Islamic civilizations, where accumulation and sharing of
knowledge over centuries has shaped these societies’outlook toward work and enterprise.
For example, the IWE “has its origin in the Quran, [and] the sayings and practice of Prophet
Mohammed, who preached that hard work caused sins to be absolved”(Yousef, 2001, p. 153).
While this perspective attached a positive meaning to work in the 7th century, it is strongly
aligned with contemporary thinking about meaningful work in 21st century organizations.
The Quran encourages fairness and justice in human dealings and emphasizes acquisition
and sharing of knowledge. The Qur’an (5:8) says:
O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm for Allah, witnesses in justice, and do not let
the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just; that is nearer
to righteousness. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what you do.
“and not equal are the good deed and the bad. Repel (evil) by that (deed) which is better”(Quran, 41:34).
“We provide for them as sustenance, and [who] repel evil with good”.(Quran, 13:22)
In the sayings of the Holy Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him), “the most generous
people after me will be those who will acquire knowledge and then share/distribute it. They
will come on the Day of Judgment singly, like a ruler (Al-Tirmidhi, [Hadith, 93])”(cited from
Khalid et al., 2018, p. 797).
Abusive supervision is a violation of justice principles because in such a situation
employees perceive they are unfairly treated by their supervisors (see also Ahmad, 2018).
Hence they negatively reciprocate abusive supervision by withholding knowledge (Feng and
Wang, 2019). However, knowledge hiding is viewed as a curse under the IWE. Qur’an (2:159)
says: “Indeed, those who conceal what We sent down of clear proofs and guidance after We
made it clear for the people in the Scripture –those are cursed by Allah and cursed by those
who curse”. The ethical principles of Islam see dedication to work as a virtue and emphasize
cooperation and consultation as means of overcoming work challenges. According to the
IWE, cooperation and developing good social relations at work is an approach for bringing
harmony to individual and social life (Yousef, 2001). The IWE is also associated with a higher
work responsibility, which motivates people to share their knowledge and experiences with
coworkers (Hassan et al., 2018). Indeed, the literature on IWE clearly suggests that it brings
positivity to the workplace (Murtaza et al., 2016;Alam and Talib, 2016). The 11 most frequent
words in the IWE literature include terms such as “employees”,“organization”,“knowledge”,
“relationship”,“sharing”and “manager”(Kalemci and Tuzun, 2019, p. 1,006).
The IWE stresses that individuals should cope with challenging situations and
discourage negative actions (Javed et al., 2019). Both Javed et al. (2019) and Murtaza et al.
(2016) have argued that abusive supervision increases deviant organizational behavior, and
they demonstrate that IWE lessens such deviance. A recent study by Khalid et al. (2018)
shows that subordinates with IWE do not hide knowledge as a consequence of supervisory
abuse. Accordingly, it is argued that IWE can buffer the negative effect of abusive
supervision on KS. This leads to our second hypothesis:
H2. IWE moderates the relationship between abusive supervision and KS.
The moderating role of LGO
LGO has been defined as “a relatively stable dispositional trait that describes the extent to
which individuals strive to understand something new or increase their level of competence in
a given activity”(Sosik et al., 2004, pp. 243–244). In other words, LGO represents individuals’
motivation toward acquiring new skills and improving their work-related competencies.
Individuals with a high LGO are keen to acquire knowledge in order to develop their personal
competencies (Dweck and Leggett, 1988), and are more self-motivated to share and apply it
(Zacher and Jimmieson, 2013). Since KS provides individuals with an opportunity to learn
from others based on the norm of reciprocity, as discussed above, those with a higher LGO are
less likely to withhold KS in the presence of abusive supervision. There are additional
justifications to support the moderation of LGO in the abusive supervision and KS
For example, individuals with a higher LGO tend to easily adjust to changing
circumstances and readily respond to challenges (VandeWalle et al., 1999). This tendency
improves their ability to handle difficult work situations such as abusive supervision. Past
research has shown that individuals who lack social adaptability skills are more adversely
affected by abusive supervision (Mackey et al., 2013). This also implies that individuals with
high LGO can better cope with abusive supervision than individuals with low LGO (see
While research on the interaction between abusive supervision and LGO is sparse,
Zacher and Jimmieson (2013) have called for research in this area in order to better
understand the leadership process. They found that self-motivated individuals are more
driven by internal factors and thus are less likely to be affected by external factors such as
leadership. This implies that individuals with a low LGO may not share knowledge in the
presence of abusive supervision because of their lower learning motivation. Similarly, Gong
et al. (2009) have argued that, because individuals with a high LGO are more focused on self-
improvement, they are less affected by abusive supervision. Since KS and learning provide
opportunities for individual improvement (Swift et al., 2010), those working under abusive
supervisors may continue to share knowledge in the workplace. Further, the study by Zacher
and Jimmieson (2013) showed that high LGO strengthens the positive association between
transformational leadership and organizational citizenship behavior. Based on these
arguments, it is hypothesized that:
H3. LGO moderates the relationship between abusive supervision and KS.
Participants and procedure
This study examines the moderating roles of IWE and LGO in the relationship between
abusive supervision and KS in the real-work settings of Pakistan. Our study is contextualized
in Pakistani work settings because over 95% of the country’s population are followers of
Islam, and accordingly the IWE is more likely to be reflected in their day-to-day work
dealings (Jahanzeb et al., 2019). The research data were collected through a cross-lagged
survey of employees working in manufacturing and service-sector organizations in
the Punjab province of Pakistan. The Punjab is considered an economic hub of
Pakistan, where both manufacturing and services represent major economic activities of
the emerging knowledge-based economy (Javed et al., 2019). The surveys were administered
during April–November 2018, and sought anonymous participation of employees on a
convenience basis (Cooksey, 2007). The participants were approached by seeking permission
from their HR managers. The HR managers were requested to identify staff members
working in roles that require higher input of knowledge because KS was the focus in this
research. The confidentiality of their responses was assured.
Our target sample size was 940, which is based on the item-response theory with the
underlying criteria of 20 responses for each of the measured items (i.e. 47 items x 20; see also
Islam and Tariq, 2018;Islam et al., 2019a;Ahmad and Islam, 2019). We distributed an equal
number of surveys to employees in the manufacturing- and service-sector organizations (i.e.
470 each). Potential participants were informed in advance about their receiving the survey
copies at the beginning of a work day, and these were to be collected at the end of the same
day. This practice is associated with a higher response rate (Islam et al., 2019b).
Since the data were collected from the same source (i.e. employees), common method bias
(CMB) was a potential concern (Podsakoff et al.,2012). To alleviate CMB, we utilized two-
wave survey design by separating the measurement of independent, moderating and
dependent variables over time. That is, the data were collected in two-time lags, such that
data on abusive supervision, LGO and IWE were collected in the first time period (T1), and
data on KS (dependent variable) were collected in the second time period (T2) with an
interval of 15 days between them. At T1, responses from 412 employees in the
manufacturing sector and 418 employees from the services sector were received. Since HR
managers briefed the research team about changes in work shifts (i.e. from daytime to a
nighttime duty) occurring on a fortnightly basis, an interval of 15 days was selected. At T2,
346 responses from the manufacturing-sector employees and 412 responses from the
services-sector employees were received, representing 54.35 and 45.65% of the total
responses (i.e. 758), respectively.
More than half the respondents were male (N5423, 57.5%) and majority were young (e.g.
54.14% were aged between 26 and 35 years). These figures align with the broader population
statistics of Pakistan, where males outnumber females, with more than two-thirds of the
population below 35 years of age (Pakistan Demographics Profile, 2019). Most respondents
had completed a master’s degree (N5630, 85.71%).
This study’s constructs were measured on a 5-point Likert scale with response options
ranging from strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (5).
KS: Van den Hooff and De Ridder’s (2004) 10-item scale was used to measure KS. This
scale has been previously validated in the context of Pakistan by Islam et al. (2019c). The
scale’s reliability was acceptable with a Cronbach’s alpha of 0.84. An example item is: “I share
my skills with colleagues within my organization”.
Abusive supervision: Tepper’s (2000) widely applied abusive supervision scale was used to
measure the construct with the help of 15 items (e.g. Wang et al., 2012;Javed et al., 2019). An
example item is: “My boss puts me down in front of others”. The reliability value for this scale
LGO: This study utilized Brett and VandeWalle’s (1999) 5-item scale to measure LGO and
noted a value of 0.88 in terms of the scale’s reliability in our study’s context. An example item
is: “I often look for opportunities to develop new skills and knowledge”.
IWE: This was measured with the help of Ali’s (1992) 17-item scale, which has been
previously validated by Murtaza et al. (2016) in the Pakistani context. This scale was found
reliable with a Cronbach’s alpha value of 0.81. An example item is: “Good work benefits both
one’s self and others”.
Control variables: Previous research has suggested that gender (Restubog et al., 2011), age
(Farh et al., 1997) and qualification-levels (Tepper et al., 2000) significantly impact employees’
reaction to negative leadership styles. Hence the present study controlled for these three
variables in the analysis.
Data analysis and results
The data were examined for missing values, outliers, normality and collinearity to ensure
their fitness for hypothesis testing. Following the recommendations of Sekaran (2003), this
study removed 14 responses with more than 15% of missing values from the analysis. Data
outliers were examined through the Mahalanobis distance procedure (at p< 0.00) by
following the instructions of Kline (2005), which resulted in the deletion of nine outlying cases.
Normality of the data was examined on the basis of kurtosis (±3) and skewness (±1) values
(Byrne, 2010). Finally, collinearity was examined on the basis of bivariate correlations, and all
values were found to be lower than 0.85 (see Table 2 for details), and hence acceptable for
further analysis (Tabachnick and Fidell, 2007). All in all, 735 responses were retained for
analysis using Structural Equation Modeling (SEM).
This study collected the data at two different points of time to tackle CMB, we also applied
Harman’s single factor test to detect this issue. The results showed that single factor
extracted 32.47% of the total variance which is well below the standard value of 50%
(Podsakoff et al., 2003). Therefore, CMB was not considered as a problematic issue for the
present study. Furthermore, the confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) was performed because
the study’s measures were adapted from previous studies (Anderson and Gerbing, 1988).
In CFA, the model fit indices were examined by considering the values of x
goodness-of-fit index (GFI), standardized root mean residual (SRMR) and root mean square
error of approximation (RMSEA) (Williams et al., 2009). As can be seen from Table 1, the
results from CFA indicate acceptable model fit indices (x
/df 52.59, CFI 50.88, GFI 50.87,
SRMR 50.091 and RMSEA 50.076) with factor loadings for all items above 0.50 (Fornell and
Larcker, 1981). The values of a few error terms associated with the same latent factor were
Variables 1 2 3 4 Mean SD
1. Abusive leadership 1 3.89 0.57 0.78
2. Islamic work ethics (IWEs) 0.14* 1 4.01 0.64 0.81
3. Learning goal orientation (LGO) –0.28** 0.34** 1 3.78 0.66 0.89
4. Knowledge sharing (KS) –0.22** 0.42** 0.11* 1 3.28 0.74 0.84
Note(s):*p< 0.05, **p0.01
/df CFI GFI SRMR RMSEA
Cut-off values ≤3≥0.90 ≥0.90 ≤0.08 ≤0.08
CFA (Initial) 1,123.43/434 52.59 0.88 0.87 0.091 0.076
CFA (Modified) 1,119.86/453 52.47 0.92 0.91 0.056 0.048
standard deviation and
high, and hence covaried to further improve the model fit indices (x
/df 52.47, CFI 50.92,
GFI 50.91, SRMR 50.056 and RMSEA 50.048).
The data were examined for discriminant and convergent forms of validity in the light of
composite reliability (CR) and average variance extracted (AVE) values. In accordance with
Byrne (2010), the values of CR and AVE were well above their cut-off values of 0.60 and 0.50,
respectively (see Table A1). Moreover, the values of Cronbach’s alpha were also above
0.70 (Hair et al., 2010;Islam et al., 2019d).
The results of descriptive analysis are presented in Table 2. The mean values of abusive
supervision, IWE, LGO and KS were 3.89, 4.01, 3.78 and 3.28, respectively. Abusive
supervision was positively correlated with IWE (r50.14, p< 0.05) and negatively correlated
with both KS (r50.22, p< 0.01) and LGO (r50.28, p< 0.01).
The study used hierarchical regression to test the research hypotheses. The results showed
that abusive supervision was negatively associated with KS (β50.34, p< 0.01), hence
supporting H1. The moderating roles of IWE and LGO in the relationship between abusive
supervision and KS (H2 and H3, respectively) were examined on the basis of standardized
values of the three-step hierarchical regression analysis (Judd et al., 2001). In the first step,
age, gender and qualification-level were entered as control variables. In the second step,
independent (i.e. abusive supervision) and moderating (i.e. LGO and IWE) variables were
entered. In the final step, two interaction terms (i.e. abusive supervision 3IWE and abusive
supervision 3LGO) were entered in the analysis to determine their significance. Table 3
presents the results.
Table 3 shows a significant negative impact of abusive supervision on KS (β50.34,
SE 50.052, p< 0.01) and a significant positive impact of abusive supervision on LGO
(β50.11, SE 50.068, p< 0.05). The impact of abusive supervision on IWE (β50.07,
SE 50.124, p> 0.05) was nonsignificant (with 12% of variation in R
in the second step). The
interaction between abusive supervision and IWE (β50.21, SE 50.038, p< 0.01), as well as
the interaction between abusive supervision and LGO (β50.19, SE 50.052, p< 0.01), were
Variable BSE t
Step 1: Control variables
Age 0.11* 0.08 2.03
Gender 0.08 0.12 0.72
Qualification 0.16* 0.07 3.69
Step2: Independent and moderating variables
Abusive supervision 0.34** 0.052 4.93
IWE 0.07 0.124 0.68
LGO 0.11* 0.068 1.99
Step 3: Interactional term
Abusive supervision 3IWE 0.21** 0.038 4.97
Abusive supervision 3LGO 0.19** 0.052 3.18
Note(s): Dependent variable 5Knowledge sharing, *p< 0.05, **p< 0.01
results for moderation
both significant (with 31% of the variation in R
). We also performed a simple slope analysis
of these interaction terms. As can be seen from Figure 2, the influence of abusive supervision
on KS was weaker when IWE was high compared to when it was low. This supported H2.
Similarly, Figure 3 shows that the influence of abusive supervision on KS was stronger
when LGO was low compared to when it was high. Hence, H3 was also supported.
The emergence of knowledge economies in the global arena has placed KS at the forefront of
the contemporary business and management agenda. This study supports abusive
supervision as a hindrance factor in achieving this agenda by investigating its direct and
interactive effects on KS. While information and knowledge are critical enabling factors for
organizational success and sustainability (Kim et al., 2016), this research showed that KS is
severely disrupted when supervisors, perceived as decision-makers (Jiang and Gu, 2016),
Low Abusive Supervision High Abusive Supervision
Low Abusive Supervision High Abusive Supervision
The moderation of
IWE in the relationship
supervision and KS
The moderation of
LGO in the relationship
supervision and KS
engage in abusive conduct. Given the prevalence of abusive supervision in contemporary
workplaces, with a growing body of evidence on its harmful impact on employees and
organizations alike (Mackey et al., 2013;Tepper, 2000;Wang et al., 2012), scholars have
stressed the need to examine factors that moderate that impact (see, e.g. Jiang and Gu, 2016;
Yang et al., 2019). Building on the research that linked abusive supervision with a range of
counterproductive and deviant behaviors in organizations (Wang et al., 2012;Yang et al.,
2019), the present study examined its association with a positive work behavior (i.e. KS).
Specifically, considering the norm of reciprocity (see also Gouldner, 1960) as a theoretical lens,
we explained the role of abusive supervision in disrupting sharing of knowledge in the
workplace. Although employees retaliate against the hostile actions of their supervisors
(Cropanzano and Mitchell, 2005;Gouldner, 1960), given the authority and control of
supervisors over job advancement and rewards any direct confrontation could be
problematic. Since employees are generally autonomous in terms of making decisions
related to their knowledge (Srivastava et al., 2006), the findings of the present study show that
those working under abusive supervision withhold KS in the workplace. This finding is in
line with other studies suggesting that abusive supervision is requited through knowledge
hiding behavior in the workplace (Choi et al., 2019;Feng and Wang, 2019;Jahanzeb et al.,
2019). The “displaced aggression theory”(see also Dollard et al., 1939) offers an alternative
explanation of this study’s finding of the negative relationship between abusive supervision
and KS. According to this theory, the targets of aggression do not retaliate against the
perpetrator overtly; rather they react covertly by withholding knowledge from coworkers
(Khalid et al., 2018;Mitchell and Ambrose, 2012).
Nonetheless, we further investigated why some employees would still engage in KS
despite abusive supervision. In fact, a valuable finding of the present study is that employees’
IWE and LGO moderate this process, because the influence of abusive supervision on KS was
found weaker among employees with a high IWE and a high LGO. Through this finding, this
paper not only contributes to the growing literature on the harm associated with abusive
supervision, but also extends the scant literature on moderating that harm.
Implications of the present study
The present study has several important implications for management theory and practice.
First, it offers a noteworthy insight by viewing business ethics through the lens of IWE,
which helps in understanding when the harmful effects of abusive supervision are
mitigated in organizational settings. Although the IWE is based on the teachings of Islam,
where individuals are encouraged to acquire and share knowledge with others and to
respond to bad actions with constructive behavior, the implications of these teachings in
regulating moral and ethical work behavior can be considered universal. This is because
the literature has recognized that “the universal application of IWE makes it a powerful tool
for studying differences in work orientation and commitment across cultures”(Kalemci and
Tuzun, 2019, p. 1,006). Through a comparative study between IWE and the Protestant
work ethic (PWE), Kalemci and Tuzun (2019) demonstrate that both types of literatures
view work as a divine calling and associated with similar characteristics in business
contexts (Kalemci and Tuzun, 2019). The authors advocated the universal application of
IWE because it also incorporates dimensions that are not specifically addressed by PWE.
For example, the IWE emphasizes intention, not just the outcome, as a measure of morality
(Yousef, 2001;Ali and Al-Owaihan, 2008;Kalemci; Tuzun, 2019). Previous research has
confirmed the universality of PWE by showing that India (where the predominant religion
is Hinduism) is ranked first in terms of international PWE scores. In addition, the
measure of IWE is inclusive of the universally shared values of hard work and justice
Second, this study examined the moderation of LGO in the abusive supervision and KS
relationship. Since individuals with high LGO are more likely to behave constructively in
interpersonal matters, given their enthusiasm for learning (Helmy et al., 2014), they are less
affected by abusive supervision when it comes to decisions relating to knowledge.
Third, this study’s findings have implications for improving knowledge management
practice in the workplace by demonstrating the significance of supervisory actions in
regulating KS. The findings have conveyed that organizations should not only focus on
employees to improve practice but also on supervisory staff members, because their hostile
actions could disrupt this endeavor. This implies that abusive supervisors should be held
seriously accountable for the unfair treatment of employees. Their participation in decision-
making processes should be curtailed when any signs of abusive conduct are noticed in the
workplace. If such situations occur, supervisors should be coached in terms of developing
their abilities to foster positive relationships with subordinates. Employees should be
given opportunities to participate in decision-making processes in order to strengthen a
knowledge-sharing culture in organizations.
Fourth, the study suggests that organizations should consider assigning ambiguous and
complex tasks to employees with a higher LGO because they are more motivated to learn and
share the new learning with coworkers. Finally, organizations should reward employees’KS
behavior by linking it with the formal reward system to promote that behavior in the
Despite noticeable strengths, the present study also has limitations. This study obtained
self-reported data from employees. However, this approach is associated with CMB
(Podsakoff et al., 2003), although we introduced a time lag in the data collection to minimize
the bias. According to Conway and Lance (2010), certain types of data such as those related to
individual-orientations should be collected with self-reported surveys. This study followed
their recommendation, because employees can best report their IWE, perceive abusive
supervision and indicate their LGO. Still, we cannot infer any causality between abusive
supervision and KS, because this would require experimental and longitudinal research
designs. This limitation should be considered and addressed in designing future research.
Finally, this study is limited to the examination of interactive effects of the IWE and LGO in
the influence of abusive supervision on KS. We urge future studies to also examine relative
interactions between IWE and PWE.
Finally, this paper, through a study of abusive supervision and KS, suggests that
individuals’orientations play a key role in understanding how employees are affected by the
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Abusive supervisor 0.78 0.60 0.84
My supervisor ...
Ridicules me 0.78
Tells me my thoughts or feelings are stupid 0.81
Gives me the silent treatment 0.73
Puts me down in front of others 0.74
Invades my privacy 0.69
Reminds me of my past mistakes and failures 0.85
Does not give me credit for jobs requiring a lot of effort 0.82
Blames me to save himself/herself embarrassment 0.75
Breaks promises he/she makes 0.79
Expresses anger at me when he/she is mad for another reason 0.83
Makes negative comments about me to others 0.68
Is rude to me 0.88
Does not allow me to interact with my coworkers 0.68
Tells me I am incompetent 0.76
Lies to me 0.80
Learning goal orientation 0.89 0.66 0.87
I am willing to select a challenging work assignment that I can learn a lot
I often look for opportunities to develop new skills and knowledge 0.76
I enjoy challenging and difficult tasks at work where I will learn new skills 0.72
For me, development of my work ability is important enough to take risks 0.80
I prefer to work in situations that require a high level of ability and talent 0.91
When I have learned something new, I see to it that colleagues in my
organization can learn it as well
0.85 0.84 0.58 0.76
I share the information I have with colleagues within my organization 0.77
I share my skills with colleagues within my organization 0.73
When I have learned something new, I see to it that colleagues outside of my
organization can learn it as well
I share the information I have with colleagues outside of my organization 0.68
I share my skills with colleagues outside of my organization 0.67
Colleagues within my organization tell me what they know, when I ask them
Colleagues within my organization tell me what their skills are, when I ask
them about it
Colleagues outside of my organization tell me what they know, when I ask
them about it
Colleagues outside of my organization tell me what their skills are, when I
ask them about it
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Islamic work ethic
Laziness is a vice 0.79 0.81 0.56 0.69
Dedication to work is a virtue 0.80
Good work benefits both one’s self and others 0.83
Justice and generosity in the workplace are necessary conditions for
Producing more than enough to meet one’s personal needs contributes to the
prosperity of society
One should carry work out to the best of one’s ability 0.69
Work is not an end but a means to foster personal growth and social
Life has no meaning without work 0.67
More leisure time is not good for society 0.78
Human relations in organizations should be emphasized and encouraged 0.73
Work enables man to control nature 0.81
Creative work is a source of happiness and accomplishment 0.84
Any man who works is more likely to get ahead in life 0.64
Work gives one the chance to be independent 0.73
A successful man is the one who meets deadlines at workplace 0.78
One should constantly work hard to meet responsibilities 0.74
The value of work is derived from the accompanying intention rather than