A growing body of research has demonstrated that the negative consequences of workplace mistreatment extend beyond just the perpetrator and victim of these incidents. Specifically, scholars have explored the outcomes of mistreatment for observers—individuals who witness acts of mistreatment between two parties at work but are not directly involved—and how observers' subsequent reactions impact the organization and its members. With this two-chapter dissertation, I review the existing research on observer responses to witnessed mistreatment and add to the literature by extending our knowledge of how and why observers respond to mistreatment. Chapter 1 provides a review of the extant literature on observer responses to mistreatment with the goal of developing an understanding of the empirical and theoretical foundations of the field. Chapter 2 then seeks to add to our understanding of how observers respond to witnessing mistreatment and what the underlying motivations of these responses are. To do so, I first conduct a competitive test between the three dominant theories in the existing literature (i.e., deonance, social emotional, and cognitive theories) utilizing a critical incident technique (Study 1). Additionally, I present a new theoretical basis for considering the self-focused motives (i.e., self-presentation theory) that might drive observer reactions, and in turn introduce additional responses that individuals might have in response to observing mistreatment. I test a full theoretical model that considers these newly proposed self-focused mechanisms and outcomes, in addition to dominant other-focused mechanisms and outcomes in an experimental study (Study 2) and field study (Study 3). Overall, my results support that observers engage in a wide array of responses after observing mistreatment and that a number of these responses are motivated by empathy and reputation management. These results indicate that social emotional and self-presentation theories are useful in explaining observer responses.
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Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
College of Business Administration
Business Administration; Management
Length of Campus-only Access
Doctoral Dissertation (Campus-only Access)
Bigelow, Bailey, "Observer Responses to Workplace Mistreatment: A Competitive Test of Multiple Theoretical Perspectives" (2021). Electronic Theses and Dissertations, 2020-. 649.
Restricted to the UCF community until August 2026; it will then be open access.