Unpacking the Managerial Blues: How Expectations Formed in the Past Carry into New Jobs


Bourmault, Nishani, and Michel Anteby. 2020. “Unpacking the Managerial Blues: How Expectations Formed in the Past Carry into New Jobs.” Organization Science 31 (6): 1452-1474. Copy at https://tinyurl.com/yby5c3nf

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Becoming a manager is generally seen as a highly coveted step up the career ladder that corresponds to a gain in responsibility. There is evidence, however, that some individuals experience "managerial blues" or disenchantment with their managerial jobs after being promoted. While past scholarship points to individual differences (such as skills inadequacy) or the promotion circumstances (such as involuntary) as possible explanations for such blues, less is known as to how the expectations that people carry with them from past jobs – such as expectations about what responsibility entails – may shape their first managerial experience. To answer this question, we compare the experiences of supervisors coming from different jobs – i.e., former Paris subway drivers (working independently and impacting the lives of others) and station agents (working interdependently with limited impact on others’ lives) – that left them with distinct sets of expectations around responsibility. Drawing on interviews and observations, we find that former drivers developed a deep sense of "personal" responsibility. After promotion, their perceived managerial responsibility paled in comparison to their expectations of what it felt like to have personal responsibility, leading the majority to experience managerial blues. In contrast, former agents had few expectations of what responsibility entailed and reported no disenchantment once they joined the managerial ranks. Overall, we show how imprinted expectations shape people’s future managerial experiences, including their managerial blues, and discuss the implications of our findings for literatures on job mobility and job design.

Last updated on 02/14/2021