Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Business Administration (PhD)

Degree Level





Lauren S. Simon

Committee Member

Jason W. Ridge

Second Committee Member

Jonathan L. Johnson


Emotional Intelligence, Emotions, Gateway Institutions, Inequality, Social Class, Workplace Behavior


Cross-class interactions—when an individual from a lower (higher) social class background interacts with an individual from a higher (lower) social class background (Truong et al., 2021)—are ubiquitous in the workplace and serve as a vehicle for the reproduction of inequality (Gray & Kish-Gephart, 2013). Substantial research has demonstrated that social class background matters, as individuals from working-class backgrounds face challenges in the job search process and may be less likely to be hired (DeOrtentiis et al., 2021; Fang & Saks, 2020), earn less money (Fang & Tilcsik, 2022), and are less likely to emerge as leaders compared to those from middle- and upper-class backgrounds (Barling & Weatherhead, 2016). However, less is known about how social class influences interactions with others at work, despite theory and sparse evidence from other fields that cross-class interactions are perceived as a threat and influence attitudes and behaviors.

Through a sociocultural lens of social class, I integrate stereotype threat theory and the cognitive appraisal theory of emotions to investigate the emotional (i.e., shame and pride) and behavioral (i.e., withdrawal and agentic behaviors) outcomes of upward cross-class interactions at work for white-collar employees from working-class backgrounds. I test my hypotheses with an 8-week experience sampling study. Although many of the hypotheses were not supported, a number of insightful findings emerged. First, results indicate that upward cross-class interactions result in greater feelings of pride, and ultimately, more engagement in agentic behaviors. Second, shame and pride predicted withdrawal behaviors and agentic behaviors, respectively, which has important implications given the context of the study. Although no direct effects were hypothesized for between-person factors, findings also indicate that a greater capacity to navigate different class contexts resulted in fewer feelings of shame and more feelings of pride throughout the study period. Additionally, higher perceptions of organizational support for development were related to less withdrawal behaviors. Theoretical and practical implications, as well as the limitations of the study, are discussed. This study is a step forward to gaining a greater understanding of workplace experiences for employees from working-class backgrounds. As both inequality and social class research continues to grow, shedding light on the various pathways through which inequality is reproduced in organizations will be a valuable endeavor.