Trapped at Work: The Barriers Model of Abusive Supervision

Kimberley Breevaart, Barbara M. Wisse, Birgit Schyns

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
16 Downloads (Pure)


While research on abusive supervision is thriving, we still know very little about the sustained nature of the phenomenon. The scant papers focusing on the prolonged character of the detrimental relational dynamic have taken a within-dyad perspective, largely ignoring within-person, group, or other external influences. Addressing these gaps in the literature, we introduce the barriers model of abusive supervision. This model posits a hierarchically organized set of obstacles that make it difficult for followers to escape the abusive supervisor, explaining why abuse can continue over long periods of time. Specifically, we present an onion-type model, in which the follower has a central position and each subsequent layer represents a more external cluster of barriers to leaving the abusive supervisor. Ranging from external to internal, these layers are: barriers in the larger societal context (Layer 1; e.g., ambiguous laws), barriers in the organizational context (Layer 2; e. g., unclear policies), barriers due to the abusive supervisor (Layer 3; e.g., isolating followers), and barriers within the abused follower (Layer 4; e.g., implicit leadership theories). We hope that our model inspires future research on the sustained nature of abusive supervision and provides practitioners with the necessary background information to help abused followers escape their supervisors.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)936-954
Number of pages19
JournalAcademy of Management Perspectives
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The first author acknowledges support from the Erasmus University Rotterdam Fellowship for the project “What would you do if your leader treated you badly? Breaking the cycle of destructive leader–follower interactions.”

Publisher Copyright:
© Academy of Management Perspectives.

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