Effects of supervisors' aggressive humor on employee strain and addictive behaviors


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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  • Yuanyuan HUO

Related Research Unit(s)


Awarding Institution
  • Ziguang CHEN (Supervisor)
Award date3 Oct 2012


The prior literature on humor primarily documents its positive effects on employees' attitudes and behaviors, such as enhanced employee commitment and group cohesiveness. Although the increasing research on aggressive humor suggests some conflicting viewpoints, relevant empirical research is still in its infancy. In seeking to capture the full picture of the effectiveness of humor, an examination of the inappropriate use of humor should be equally important as an examination of its positive side because we can learn as much from the failure of humor as from its effective use. Constraining our knowledge to the positive side and ignoring the dark side will lead to an incomplete understanding of humor and limit the development of humor research. This dissertation proposes a model based on social comparison theory and attribution theory to examine the influence of supervisors' aggressive humor on employees' strain and addictive behaviors. Specifically, I propose that supervisors' use of aggressive humor with focal employees relates positively to employee strain, while supervisors' use of aggressive humor with the peers of focal employees attenuates this positive effect. Employee strain, in turn, induces addictive behaviors, including Internet addiction, problem drinking, and problem smoking. The research model was tested using a two-wave study with 243 frontline employees from four manufacturing companies of a group corporation in China and their spouses. I also tested the model using all of the self-rated measures with 311 employees. The results showed that supervisors' use of aggressive humor with employees related positively to employees' strain. This positive association became stronger when the supervisors did not use aggressive humor with the peers of the focal employees. Focal employees' strain mediated the interactive effects of supervisors' use of aggressive humor with the focal employees and with peers on focal employees' addictive behaviors (e.g., problematic use of Internet, alcohol, and tobacco). As well as having practical implications for managers and organizations in relation to using humor appropriately, this study offers theoretical insights for research into humor, leadership, and addictive behaviors. This dissertation (1) identifies supervisors' aggressive humor as an important and salient workplace stressor; (2) investigates both the proximal and distal consequences of supervisors' use of aggressive humor for employees; (3) explores the antecedents of a new pervasive behavior, namely Internet addiction; and (4) contributes to the social comparison and attribution literature by including the potential buffering effect of the similar treatment being received by peers in the same group.

    Research areas

  • Supervision of employees, Psychological aspects, Organizational behavior, Wit and humor in business, Job stress