Insubordination: Validation of a Measure and an Examination of Insubordinate Responses to Unethical Supervisory Treatment

Jeremy D. Mackey, Charn P. McAllister, Katherine C. Alexander

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Research that examines unethical interpersonal treatment has received a great deal of attention from scholars and practitioners in recent years due to the remarkable impact of mistreatment in the workplace. However, the literature is incomplete because we have an inadequate understanding of insubordination, which we define as “subordinates’ disobedient behaviors that intentionally exhibit a defiant refusal of their supervisors’ authority.” In our study, we integrate social exchange theory and the advantageous comparison component of moral disengagement within the integrative model of experiencing and responding to mistreatment at work. Then, we explain why subordinates disengage from moral control as they balance experiencing abusive supervision with perpetrating insubordination within negative supervisor–subordinate social exchange relationships. In Studies 1–4, we validate a five-item measure of insubordination and demonstrate its content, convergent, discriminant, criterion-related, and predictive validity. In Study 5 (n = 287), we demonstrate that there is a positive indirect effect of abusive supervision on insubordination through negative social exchange relationship quality that strengthens for subordinates who perceive higher levels of supervisors’ task performance than others. Overall, our study advances the conversation in the business ethics literature by creating a solid conceptual, empirical, and theoretical foundation for a cohesive program of insubordination research that meaningfully builds on prior findings in unethical interpersonal treatment research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)755-775
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Abusive supervision
  • CWB
  • Ethics
  • Insubordination
  • Mistreatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Law


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