How and Why Millennials Are Initiating Conflict in Vertical Dyads and What They Are Learning: A Two-Stage Study

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The purpose of this paper is to contribute to extant conflict management theory by presenting evidence from a two-stage study of conflict initiated by pre-graduation Millennials in entry-level work environments.


The paper presents an inductively derived conceptual model, hypotheses and measurement scales grounded in Millennials’ voices. Then, based on survey data, the scales are tested for structural coherence, and hypotheses are validated using structural equation modeling methodology.


Most Millennials initiate conflict with older coworkers and supervisors in the workplace because of the hurt they feel over the unfairness they experience. While confronting their superiors, they take an aggressive stand (“you are wrong, you should change”) and learn that the organization is duplicitous and that they should initiate conflict with superiors in the future to protect against unfairness in a duplicitous organization.

Research limitations/implications

The findings and implications reflect the perspectives of Millennials who initiated conflict with superiors or more experienced coworkers in entry level workplaces. Reports of multiple perspectives and from other contexts are left to future research.

Practical implications

Millennials may well enter the workforce with attitudes and behaviors older coworkers and supervisors find aberrant. However, the interactions between Millennials, older generations and the socio-technical environment of entry-level workplaces lie at the root of the conflict Millennials initiate. Older generations may have implicitly produced – albeit to varying extents – opaque environments in which entry-level Millennials feel manipulated.


The study reports a relatively rare two-stage study that begins with exploration and discovery using qualitative data, and concludes with hypotheses tests based on survey data. A new context is explored; i.e. Millennials initiating conflict in vertical dyads. New concerns about the veracity of the entry-level work environment are raised.


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