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Service with a smile

Fresh research has revealed managers and employees are poles apart in their views on workplace relationships when it comes to dealing with negative emotions

Fresh research into workplace relationships has revealed that managers who help employees to deal with negative emotions feel it is ‘extra-role behaviour’ above-and-beyond their managerial duties.

The research, by Professor Martin Kilduff of Cambridge Judge Business School, also reveals that managers expect commitment in return whereas employees do not consider that reciprocation is necessary.

Professor Kilduff was concerned that, in return for emotion-help, the managers expected a personal commitment, an area where they were liable to be disappointed.

“They did not expect the employees to help them with their own emotional problems. Nor did the employees see that as an option because there is a hierarchical barrier. These people were the bosses and you don’t help your boss with private emotional problems.

“That option was not open. The expectation from the managers however was that they would be repaid in some other more private way and that’s where it starts to get worrying because if you are expecting repayment for emotional help then it does not take too much of a stretch of the imagination to see patterns of dependency arising and people playing at amateur therapists. That could lead to problems in the long run.”

Professor Kilduff flags up this possibility in his paper ‘Emotion Helping By Managers’.

Increasingly, he says, companies are ’emphasising service and service with a smile’ which amounts to ’emotional labour’.

“The pressure of the work, irrespective of culture, is likely to enforce the kinds of patterns we are seeing here although they may differ from culture to culture. Everywhere in the world ’emotional labour’ is very much what people in service organisations are expected to perform and if they’re not upbeat, then the managers are going to feel obliged to intervene.”

Professor Kilduff feels that among the next steps will be deeper research into these not previously explored patterns of behaviour, particularly the downsides of emotional labour around manager/subordinate relationships.

Professor Martin Kilduff is Director of the Doctoral Programme and a Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, University of Cambridge.