Self-serving attributions and burnout among service employees

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to explore the role of self-serving attributions by service providers in reaction to customers' perceived negative and positive behaviors. Design/methodology/approach: Questionnaires are completed by 398 service providers. Findings: The hypotheses, supported by the results, are that service providers would make more external attributions of negative customer behaviors and more internal attributions of positive behaviors. However, the external attributions of negative behaviors are expected to be positively related to burnout because it conflicts with the organizational message regarding the customer's rights. Attributions are found to mediate the relationship between frequency of customers' behaviors and burnout. Empowerment is positively related to internal attributions of both positive and negative behaviors. Research limitations/implications: The study is conducted with a convenience sample and does not represent a broad spectrum of the service sector. Customers positive and negative behaviors are explored through respondents' self-reports. Furthermore, the service encounters, namely a one-time service interaction or a long-term service relationship are not differentiated. Practical implications: Self-serving attributions made by employees do not always accord to managerial policy. In order to minimize the conflict between the organizational notion of the customer's rights and service provider's self-serving attributions, management must make a clear distinction between customer negative behaviors and service failure. While service providers should assume responsibility for correcting failures, they should not be blamed for customer negative behaviors. Furthermore, management should encourage the internal attribution of positive customer behaviors. Originality/value: While in most contexts the attribution of negative events externally is found to have a positive effect, the effect of such attribution in the service context is not obvious. The notion of the customer being always right suggests that in the case of a conflict, the service provider is wrong by default. Making external attributions of negative customer behaviors conflicts with organizational standards as well as creates a gap between the service provider's external behavior and his/her internal state. The research question addresses the mediating role of such attributions in the relationship of the frequency of customers' behaviors and service providers' burnout. In additon, to address this issue more fully, the scope of customer behavior beyond the adverse behaviors examined in previous studies is broaden.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)320-338
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Journal of Organizational Analysis
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2009


  • Consumer behaviour
  • Services
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Strategy and Management
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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