Department of Management


Date of this Version



Published in Personnel Psychology 74 (2021), pp. 693–719.



Copyright © 2020 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Used by permission.


Although extant research has shown that abusive supervision is a destructive and immoral form of leader behavior, theory provides conflicting perspectives on how supervisors respond to their own abusive behavior. We therefore draw upon and integrate moral cleansing theory and impression management and construction theory to explore whether and when supervisors engage in genuine reparations or impression management following episodes of abusive behavior. Results taken from a 3-week, experience sampling study of supervisors suggest support for the impression management path; following episodes of abusive behavior, supervisors higher on symbolized moral identity become more concerned with their image, and thus engage in increased ingratiation, self-promotion, and exemplification toward their subordinates. In contrast, we found no support for the genuine, moral cleansing path. This study thus extends knowledge regarding supervisors’ responses to their own abusive behavior, challenging the existing notion that such responses are genuine and focused on addressing the moral implications of the behavior.