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Kenan Institute 2024 Grand Challenge: Business Resilience
Market-Based Solutions to Vital Economic Issues
Jun 30, 2022

“Am I Next?” The Spillover Effects Of Mega-threats On Avoidant Behaviors At Work

“Mega-threats”—negative, identity-relevant societal events that receive significant
media attention—are frequent occurrences in society, yet the influence of these events on
employees remains unclear. We draw on the theory of racialized organizations to
explain the process whereby exposure to mega-threats leads to heightened avoidant
work behaviors for racial minority employees. We theorize and find—across two studies
centered upon various mega-threats, including a mass shooting targeting Asian Americans and police killings of Black civilians—that event observers who share identities
with mega-threat victims become vicarious victims, which triggers an experience of
“embodied threat,” an appraisal of the increased likelihood of personally encountering
identity-based harm. The experience of embodied threat coupled with the racialized
nature of organizational structures, which limits the agency of racial minorities, then
compels employees to engage in threat suppression. Furthermore, we find that threat
suppression consumes psychological resources, leading to heightened avoidant work
behaviors, or higher work withdrawal and lower social engagement, but, when the psychological safety of identity-based discussions is high, it attenuates this effect. Altogether, our paper advances research on mega-threats and race in organizations, and
yields practical insights that can assist managers in reducing the detrimental effects of
mega-threats on employees.

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