“A study in a recent Academy of Management Journal finds that employees are no more loyal to ‘caring’ bosses who offer emotional support in tough times than to bosses who run the other way when they hear a snuffle coming from a cubicle. It’s a problem of mismatched expectations, reports the study, by researchers from IMD and the University of London. When a manager proffers a sympathetic ear and consoling words, she naturally wants the worker restored to equilibrium and back on the job. But many managers also expect employees to show appreciation by working harder or staying longer with the company. Employees, by contrast, regard shows of compassion as part of managers’ regular duties and not deserving of reciprocation.
In the study, 75 percent of respondents–both lower-level workers and middle managers–reported receiving emotional support from their superiors. But none felt indebted. Bosses, by contrast, believed their gestures of kindness transcended the call of duty and deserved a response. ‘If I buy you a drink it’s sort of expected that the next time around you’ll buy me one,’ complained one respondent. ‘It’s in every element of our culture–except the workplace.’
Now I’m not sentimental about office life, but this sounds like an unusually cold-blooded approach to working relationships. As Stacy mumbles soothing words and forks over tissues to a sobbing Eileen, is she mentally calculating how many weekends she can ask her to work? Does Eileen take for granted that Stacy will spend an hour listening to her woes because that’s what she is paid to do? What’s wrong with these people?”