If you’re a boss, don’t expect appreciation, commitment or loyalty from a worker you help with personal and work issues. Many employees take it for granted, according to IMD business-school research.

“Managers and employees alike appreciate that controlling negative emotions can be important within an organization,” said research co-author Professor Ginka Toegel. “But it seems there’s a marked difference in how the two parties believe this sort of support should be perceived and how they think employees should respond to it.”

IMD, a Swiss school (www.imd.org), conducted the research in collaboration with University College London, and was published in the Academy of Management Journal.

Emotional support

“Managers tend to regard emotional support as above and beyond their responsibilities and therefore worthy of reciprocation in the form of greater commitment,” explained the professor. “For example, they might think an employee they have helped should have no qualms about working a little bit harder or staying a little bit later to meet a deadline.”

If you want to go out of your way to help an employee, don’t expect anything in return. And that’s a problem for such caring bosses, says the study.

“Unfortunately, employees just don’t see it like that. They view emotional support as part and parcel of what their superiors do and are paid good money for,” added Professor Toegel. “Consequently, the shows of gratitude may never arrive – and the negativity can end up perpetuated not by the employee but by the manager, who feels terribly let down.”

Bosses who lend a helping hand must manage their own expectations, as they may find themselves frustrated with their staff’s lack of appreciation.

Personal debt

Around three quarters of lower-level workers and middle managers reported receiving support from their superiors, but not one expressed a feeling of personal debt.

“Some managers expressed social motives for offering support – ‘Christian spirit’, for example, or ‘the right thing to do’,” said IMD Professor Anand Narasimhan. “But even they expected they would gain something in return, perhaps in the form of increased recognition from those they helped and from their own superiors.”

The findings emerged from an in-depth study of workers at a successful recruiting agency that specializes in providing managers for the service sector.

Dozens of employees took part in interviews and questionnaires to examine whom they turned to for emotional help and how they felt such support should be viewed.

Sales and profits

“Others expected purely practical gains, taking the view that helping to address employees’ negative emotions would ultimately benefit sales and profits,” explained Professor Narasimhan. “Based on our findings, maybe the lesson for all concerned is to avoid unrealistic expectations – especially in an era when so much of economic life is built on services.”

Besides, don’t overlook one bonus.

“The fact is that managers do benefit from a happy team in terms of productivity and results, even without any additional displays of loyalty and commitment,” asserted Professor Narasimhan. “Some manifestation of gratitude beyond that would be very nice, of course, but there’s no reason for bitterness or hand-wringing if it doesn’t happen to materialize.”

Amen. Just like giving any kind of gift in your personal or professional life, lower your expectations.

Don’t expect anything in return if you’re doing something charitable. Otherwise, you’re defeating your purpose, and extending a helping hand — not a handout — is the right thing to do.

From the Coach’s Corner, here are related resources:

Secrets in Motivating Employees to Offer Profitable Ideas – Savvy employers know how to profit from their human capital. Such knowledge is a powerful weapon for high performance in a competitive marketplace. Furthermore, there’s a correlation among excellent sales, happy customers, and high employee morale.  

Tips for Marketing Your HR-Policy Changes to Employees – So you’ve identified workplace policies that need to be updated. But you want your policies to be accepted and followed by your employees. Employees are often uncomfortable with change even if it’s necessary for a business turnaround. 

Why Do Mid-Level Managers Feel Like Monkeys? – Middle managers ostensibly have something in common with monkeys. “Seriously?” you’re probably thinking. Well, research has drawn a possible link between the stress of certain monkeys and that suffered by middle managers – both have high anxiety from pressures brought by others – above and below them.

More Companies Know that High Morale among Employees Propels Profits – More companies are aware that employee engagement enables a better customer experience, which leads to higher performance. That’s a salient conclusion of the Temkin Group’s “Employee Engagement Benchmark Study, 2013.” 

“It is not until you become a mother that your judgment slowly turns to compassion and understanding.”

-Erma Bombeck


Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.