ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2021, Vol. 53 ›› Issue (12): 1376-1392.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2021.01376

• Reports of Empirical Studies • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Does distrust motivate or discourage employees? The double-edged sword effect of feeling ability-distrusted by supervisors

LU Hailing1, YANG Yang2, WANG Yongli2(), ZHANG Xin3, TAN Ling4   

  1. 1School of Economics and Management, Nanjing University of Science and Technology, Nanjing 210094, China
    2School of Business, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou 510275, China
    3Department of Management, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong 999077, China
    4School of Management, Guangdong University of Technology, Guangzhou 510520, China
  • Received:2020-06-08 Published:2021-12-25 Online:2021-10-26
  • Contact: WANG Yongli
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China(71772184);National Natural Science Foundation of China(71802203)


Feeling ability-distrusted by supervisors is an important part of trust research. Previous research has revealed that feeling ability-distrusted by supervisors is detrimental to employees’ self-concept. Nevertheless, this prevailing assumption leaves our understandings of trust incomplete. Traditional Chinese management practice (e.g., “Jijiangfa”) has suggested that supervisors’ distrust may encourage employees to prove themselves. To address this question, drawing from self-evaluation and psychological reactance theories, we examine the effects of feeling ability-distrusted by supervisors on employees’ self-concept through two field studies and an experiment. Results showed that when perceived supervisor competence was high, feeling ability-distrusted by supervisors was negatively associated with job self-efficacy, which in turn, decreased employee work effort and job performance; when perceived supervisor competence was low, feeling ability-distrusted by supervisors was positively associated with employee’s desire to prove their abilities, which in turn increased employee work effort and job performance.

Key words: feeling ability-distrusted by supervisors, perceived supervisor competence, job self-efficacy, desire to prove ability, work effort