Shiyang Su, PhD, University of Central Florida Steve M. Jex, PhD, University of Central Florida
The current study focused on (a) the reciprocal relations between emotional exhaustion and counterproductive work behavior (CWB) in a dynamic context, using the latent change score (LCS) modeling; and (b) understanding the moderating effect of emotion-focused coping on the dynamic relations.
Exhaustion represents a state of depleted self-regulatory capacity, and has been treated as ?a marker of depleted resources? in empirical research (Meier & Gross, 2015; p. 1099). The literature suggests that individuals possess limited resources to inhibit inappropriate urges and behaviors, and that depletion of self-control resources impairs one?s ability to maintain appropriate behavior at work (Baumeister et al., 1998; Meier & Gross, 2015). Unfortunately, the dynamic nature of the depletion process is often overlooked (Halbesleben et al., 2014; Lian et al., 2017). As employees become increasingly depleted, their ability to uphold organizational norms for appropriate conduct at work are diminished, resulting in an increase in CWB (Meier & Gross, 2015; Rosen et al., 2016). CWB refers to intentional behaviors by employees that are viewed by the organization as contrary to its legitimate interests and potentially harmful to individual and organizational benefit (Spector & Fox, 2005; Spector et al., 2006). Therefore, we hypothesized: H1. Emotional exhaustion will be positively related to subsequent increase in CWB. One aim of CWB is to ?passively and indirectly cope with the emotion? (Spector & Fox; 2005). CWB could be instrumental (Fox & Spector, 2010; Krischer et al., 2010; Shoss et al., 2016), in response to emotional exhaustion for resource conservation. Krischer et al. (2010) suggested that CWB might reduce emotional exhaustion; meanwhile, they emphasized that CWB itself can be emotionally exhausting, therefore, the emotional cost of CWB may counteract its emotional benefit in the long run. We hypothesized: H2. The relation between CWB and subsequent change in emotional exhaustion will be either negative or non-significant. The reciprocal relations between emotional exhaustion and CWB might depend on individual differences in self-regulatory strategies (Lian et al., 2017), such as emotional-focused coping skills. Depletion-based effects of workplace stressors depend on engaging in activities that help recover resources (Halbesleben et al., 2014). For those who lack the effective coping skills to gain new energy and replenish resources, they might conduct CWB as attempts to ?cope? with emotional exhaustion in stressful situations (Krischer et al., 2010). We hypothesized: H3. Emotion-focused coping skills would moderate the relation between emotional exhaustion and CWB. Specifically, this relation would be stronger for those with low emotion-focused coping skills, but weaker for those with high emotion-focused coping skills.
We collected data from 481 full-time employees in four waves, each separated by one month. The measure of CWB was by Spector et al. (2010). The measure of emotional exhaustion was by Frone and Tidwell (2015). The measure of emotion-focused coping was by Carver et al. (1989). Hypotheses were tested with LCS modeling (McArdle, 2009), which enables researchers to explicitly model changes as latent variables above beyond the levels, and to account for multiple sources of variability.
Supporting H1, we found that emotional exhaustion predicted subsequent increase in CWB ( = 1.718, p < .05), such that experiencing high emotional exhaustion could lead to an increased probability of CWB over time. Meanwhile, CWB was not significantly associated with subsequent change in emotional exhaustion ( = 0.013, ns), suggesting CWB did not effectively mitigate emotional exhaustion over time (H2). Supporting the role of emotion-focused coping as a moderator (H3), for those having low emotion-focused coping skills, emotional exhaustion was positively related to subsequent increase in CWB ( = 2.807, p < .05) but CWB did not predict subsequent change in emotional exhaustion; on the other hand, for those having high emotion-focused coping skills, the relations between CWB and emotional exhaustion were not significant.
Previous research has focused on emotional exhaustion and CWB as outcomes of stressors in static associations. By examining the reciprocal relations between CWB and emotional exhaustion in a dynamic context, the current study offers several theoretical and practical implications. Theoretically, it supported the dynamic process between emotional exhaustion and CWB; only those who were lack of emotion-focused coping skills might conduct CWB in response to emotional exhaustion. Moreover, we observed that CWB did not mitigate emotional exhaustion in the long run. Practically, organizations could implement trainings on coping skills among employees such that emotionally exhausted employees would have lower probability in conducting CWB. Strengths. First, we applied an advanced longitudinal model that treated changes (above beyond the levels) as outcomes while controlling for various sources of variability. Second, unlike prior studies that examined the static, unidirectional association, we investigated the reciprocal relationships between emotional exhaustion and CWB in a dynamic context and the moderator. Limitations. First, although anonymity enhanced the validity of self-report CWB measures (Berry et al., 2012), future research could replicate the study using other-report measures. Second, the relationship might vary depending on types of stressors. Therefore, future studies could include job stressors and treat emotional exhaustion as a mediator.
Taking a dynamic perspective, we found that emotional exhaustion lead to subsequent increase in CWB; this relation only held for those having low emotion-focused coping skills. Taken together, employees with effective emotion-focused coping skills were less likely to conduct CWB in response to emotional exhaustion over time, whereas those lack of coping skills have higher chance to conduct CWB when constantly depleted.