Why Seeing Growth Mindset at Work Matters, Especially for Those Who Grew Up with Little: First-Generation Employees Feel Comfortable Asking for Advice When They Believe Their Manager is an Incremental Theorist

Author: ORCID icon orcid.org/0000-0002-1274-0386
Han, Inhyun, Business Administration - Darden School of Business, University of Virginia
Belmi, Peter Ronald, DA-Darden School, University of Virginia

Employees benefit when they ask their managers for advice, yet they are often reluctant to do so, especially if they come from disadvantaged backgrounds. In the present research, I integrate several distinct literatures to test a theoretical model that seeks to explain when and why individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds might feel reluctant to ask for advice. I first propose that people hold meta-theories about their managers: That is, they can believe that their manager is either an incremental theorist (someone who believes that intelligence can be nurtured and developed), or an entity theorist (someone who believes that intelligence is a fixed and stable trait). I broadly suggest that these meta-theories shape how comfortable individuals feel about advice-seeking. Specifically, I suggest that people generally feel more comfortable asking for advice when they hold an incremental meta-lay theory than when they hold an entity meta-lay theory. I then propose that this psychology applies particularly to those who come from working-class contexts, such as first-generation employees—individuals who are first in their family to gain a four-year college degree. I hypothesize that, relative to their continuing-generation counterparts, first-generation individuals are more likely to be guided by their meta-lay theories in deciding whether they would feel comfortable seeking advice. A survey (Study 1), and two experiments (Studies 2 and 3) found support for these propositions. Overall, this research illuminates how social class differences manifest within organizations and highlights the role of meta-lay theories in shaping people’s inclination to seek advice, especially for individuals from working-class backgrounds.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
meta-lay theories, sense of belonging, advice-seeking, social class
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