Words that hurt: Leaders’ anti-Asian communication and employee outcomes.

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With the outbreak of COVID-19, there have been growing reports of racial harassment targeting Asian Americans. We study one such manifestation of racial harassment that Asian employees may face in the workplace: Leaders’ use of stigmatizing labels for COVID-19 such as the “Chinese Virus” and “Kung Flu.” Integrating organizational justice theories with research on racial harassment in the workplace, we theorize that leaders’ use of stigmatizing COVID-19 labels reduces employees’ perceptions of interpersonal justice, which subsequently impact employees’ emotional exhaustion and work engagement. We further theorize that while such effects will be stronger among Asian employees who experience both moral anger and reduced public collective self-esteem, that the effects will also be present among non-Asian employees who experience moral anger. Using one survey (Study 1) and one experiment (Study 2), we find support for our predictions. We find that leaders’ use of stigmatizing language to depict COVID-19 leads to deleterious workplace experiences for employees, and especially for Asian employees. The current research thus deepens our understanding of the relatively understudied work experiences of Asian Americans and brings to light the underlying psychological mechanisms linking racial harassment and employee work outcomes for both targeted employees and employees not targeted. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).

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Authors: Sora Jun, Junfeng Wu