Bosses who help their employees deal with emotional problems shouldn't expect much gratitude or loyalty for their efforts, new research shows.
A study in the current issue of the Academy of Management Journal finds that subordinates, who tend to seek help with personal and job concerns from supervisors rather than from co-workers, typically view a boss's help as part of their managerial responsibilities, while supervisors see them as good deeds that go well beyond their job duties.
The research revealed that the disparity extended to the expectation of reciprocity, with subordinates seeing little or no obligation to reciprocate for emotional help, whereas managers expected payback in the form of increased commitment and loyalty from the employee.
The study highlights the case of one manager who devoted a lot of time to helping a staff member deal with emotional troubles only to have her leave for another company just when she seemed to be turning the corner. When the manager showed disappointment, the subordinate was surprised, having had taken for granted that such help was part of a boss's job.
One of the study's authors, Ginka Toegel of the IMD business school in Lausanne, Switzerland, said although most managers don't show their disappointment as overtly as the one in the case study did, they do have clear expectations.
"They feel that helping with emotional problems is above and beyond their job responsibilities and expect employees to return the favor through enhanced recognition, loyalty and commitment," Toegel said. "In short, no second thoughts if there's a deadline to meet and the employee is asked to stay late."
Toegel said supervisors should have realistic expectations when dealing with employees and shouldn't be surprised that subordinates would consider it part of their boss's job to maintain a healthy emotional climate.
"The fact is that supervisors do benefit from a happy team in terms of productivity and results, as most of our interviewees were aware," Toegel said. "Emotional rewards beyond that would be nice, but their absence should not be an occasion for bitterness or hand-wringing."
The study’s message for employees should be that help from a supervisor comes with expectations for gratitude and personal loyalty, Toegel said.
"If employees are not comfortable with that, they should think twice about going to their supervisor for help or even accepting an offer for help," she said.
The study, based on an in-depth analysis of a recruiting agency specializing in providing managerial staff for retail outlets, was co-authored by Anand Narasimhan, of the IMD business school, and Martin Kilduff of University College London.