Published Online:https://doi.org/10.5465/amj.2010.0512

Why do managers help employees with their negative emotions, and how do employees respond? We analyzed interview and network data from the head office of a recruiting agency. We found that managers active in the provision of emotion help thought of such help as over and above their managerial duties, whereas employees defined emotional support as managerial in-role behavior. Both parties accepted the necessity of controlling negative emotions for the good of the organization. But those being helped tended to perceive their helpers as doubly powerful figures, invested with both formal authority and parental authority, whereas the helpers saw themselves as reacting to situational contingencies to do favors for subordinates in need. Our results point to an emergent understanding of discrepant interpretations. Employees treat caring as part of the managers' role that requires no reciprocation, whereas managers see such help-giving as discretionary extra-role behavior that requires reciprocated commitment. Discrepant expectations concerning emotion helping leads to positive outcomes (e.g., managers being attributed leadership qualities by subordinates) but also negative outcomes (e.g., managers feeling disappointed at the lack of reciprocity). We contribute an emergent model of discrepant interpretations concerning emotion helping with implications for research on leadership, emotion management, and critical theory.

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