How despotic leadership jeopardizes employees' performance: the roles of quality of work life and work withdrawal

Shazia Nauman (Lead / Corresponding author), Connie Zheng, Ameer A. Basit

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    40 Citations (Scopus)


    Purpose: This study contributes to the leadership literature by examining how and when despotic leadership jeopardizes employees' performance. Specifically, we examine whether employees' job performance could be harmed by despotic supervision through employees' work withdrawal behaviour. Moreover, we investigate whether the quality of work-life (QWL) helps in toning down the harmful effects of despotic supervision on work withdrawal. Design/methodology/approach: We used a multi-wave research design with data collected from 195 employees and their supervisors working in Pakistan's manufacturing sector. At time 1, we measured the independent variable (i.e. despotic leadership) and moderator (QWL), whereas, at time-2, the mediator (work withdrawal) was tapped by the same respondent with a time interval of three weeks between them. At time 3, the outcome (supervisor-rated job performance) was assessed directly by the supervisors. Findings: The results support the mediating effect between despotic leadership and employees' performance through an enhanced level of work withdrawal behaviour. The effect of despotic leadership on job performance via work withdrawal behaviour was found to be weaker among employees with a higher level of QWL. Practical implications: For individuals, QWL serves as an enhancement of personal resources to deal with despotic leaders at the workplace; for organizations, our study results alert managers and leaders at the workplace to address employees' need for QWL as this positive resource may discourage work withdrawal behaviour and stimulate employees to perform well in their jobs despite facing despotic supervision. Originality/value: This study contributes to the leadership literature by introducing work withdrawal as an underlying mechanism to explain the despotic leadership – job performance relationship. Further, we examined how the harmful effects of despotic leadership can be toned down through the moderating variable of QWL thus having practical implications for both employers and employees.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-16
    Number of pages16
    JournalLeadership and Organization Development Journal
    Issue number1
    Early online date12 Nov 2020
    Publication statusPublished - 22 Jan 2021


    • Despotic leadership
    • Job performance
    • Quality of work-life
    • Work withdrawal

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Business, Management and Accounting (miscellaneous)
    • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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