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The Powerful Threat of Promotions: When Subordinates Get Promoted To Your Level
Promotions are ubiquitous in organizations and are often a marker of success for both the promoted and the manager who trained them. However, promotions change the relative hierarchical difference between managers and subordinates. Leveraging the literatures on social hierarchy and social comparisons, we propose there are negative psychological consequences incurred on the manager when their subordinates are promoted, which affect their future interactions. In five vignette experiments we manipulated whether a subordinate is promoted and measured participants’ perceived threat, power, and propensity to engage in unethical and prosocial behavior. We found that promotions invoked a greater sense of threat than other workplace successes subordinates experience, and this threat led to an increase in unethical behaviors and decrease in prosocial behaviors towards the former subordinate. We also defined boundary conditions of this effect by manipulating the proximity of the promotion (same vs. different position), and one’s own upward mobility opportunities.