Why do managers view Millennial employees as more entitled? Power, managers’ entitlement, and destructive leadership behavior toward Millennial employees

    Project: Research project

    Project Details


    Millennials are generally defined as the cohort born after 1979 (Smola & Sutton, 2002). A Google search of the “challenges of managing Millennials” reveals more than two million results, including such titles as, “Why are Millennials so hard to manage,” “5 reasons you struggle to manage Millennials,” and “11 tips to help you manage Millennial employees.” Practicing managers have found it hard to manage Millennials, because they believe that, among other characteristics, Millennials tend to have higher levels of psychological entitlement, defined as “a stable tendency toward highly favorable self-perceptions and a tendency to feel deserving of high levels of praise and reward, regardless of actual performance levels” (Harvey & Harris, 2010). To date, scholarly works on Millennials have focused on comparing their values and attitudes with those of older generations and have yet to find consistent evidence.

    In this proposed project, I attempt to change the course of scientific enquires on Millennial employees by focusing on managers rather than Millennials. Drawing from power research (Blader & Chen, 2012; Ebenbach & Keltner, 1998) and projection research (Freud, 1915/1953), I contend that the tension between managers and Millennial employees is caused, at least in part, by the managers themselves. Given that high powerholders tend to experience higher levels of entitlement than low powerholders (de Cremer & van Dijk, 2005; de Cremer, van Dijk, & Folmer, 2009), I propose a projection effect: Managers with a higher level of psychological entitlement may project their own entitlement selectively onto Millennial employees and thereby view Millennial employees as highly entitled. Indeed, the results of a pilot study I conducted with my colleagues in two factories in China have yielded indirect evidence of this (Chen, Huang, & Chen, 2018). Based on a time-lagged survey on 496 supervisor-subordinate dyads, we found that managers with higher levels of entitlement tend to give more negative evaluations to their post-90s Millennial employees than to employees of older generations.

    I further propose that feelings of power are likely to fuel managers with high levels of psychological entitlement, thus inducing the projection effect. Also, I suggest that projecting their own psychological entitlement onto Millennial employees will drive high-power managers to exhibit authoritarian leadership and incivility toward their Millennial employees and that only through more frequent interactions with Millennial employees can managers reduce their projection tendency and biased evaluations of Millennials. I will test these propositions progressively using three survey- and lab-based studies.
    Effective start/end date1/01/2031/12/22


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