Your boss helps you navigate issues with your career and your boyfriend—amazing! But even if your supervisor is beyond friendly, you still have to put some thought into how you interact with her: When employees get personal advice from their bosses, they usually see it as part of the boss’ job—while managers view it as a favor that should be reciprocated in some way, according to a new study published in the Academy of Management Journal.
Researchers from the International Institute for Management Development in Switzerland and the University College London closely followed a recruiting agency to see how emotional helping (support for a personal problem, dilemma, or any negative emotion) worked in a typical office. They sent out virtual surveys and found that about 70 percent of the workers said they expected their managers to provide them with emotional support, both with office-related issues and personal problems. And that expectation was pretty accurate: 75 percent of lower-level employees and 71 percent of middle managers said they received support from someone above them in the company.
But here’s where it can get messy: When a lower-level employee received emotional support from a manager, they were more likely to see it as just part of the boss’ role, while the managers viewed it as totally outside of their job description. So even if your boss notices you’re upset and gives you advice about your roommate trouble, she probably considers it a voluntary favor, not part of her job. Perhaps even more importantly, the managers expected their employees to return the favor with increased loyalty and commitment to the company, while most employees didn’t feel the need to reciprocate at all.
“You’re more likely to invest time in someone where you see a reciprocal relationship,” says LinkedIn Career Expert Nicole Williams. “If you do get a manager that is even slightly engaged in your development, you want to reinforce your appreciation by really giving it back to them.”
That doesn’t mean you need to work late every night or stay with your company for 20 years. These little tricks are actually way more effective at making sure your boss feels the love:
Ask if she needs a favor
It sounds like a no-brainer, but just asking your boss “How can I help?” is one of the easiest ways to get on his or her good side, says Williams. While it’s great to be able to anticipate your boss’ needs, you run the risk of being totally off-base or failing to pick up on something when you don’t open up the lines of communication. “If you ask [this question], you’re indicating interest and you’ll get specific information with which you can act,” says Williams. Plus, your boss may feel less guilty asking you for a favor when you’ve already offered.
Don’t knock the little things
Even if you’ve long since retired from being an intern or assistant, remember the power of a simple coffee run. Many employees see favors like this to be beneath them, but if you notice that your boss is struggling and there’s no other way you can help, this unsolicited gesture can really make a difference. “Sometimes that’s all you can do,” says Williams. “You can’t write the report for her, but if you see she’s been working all night, just look to do the things that are going to support her in her role.” That can be anything from grabbing her favorite soup from the corner deli to dropping off a double espresso on her desk. “Don’t be afraid of being considerate,” says Williams.
Log some bonding time—off the clock
It may seem intimidating, but putting in some extra face time with your boss—outside of the office—can really boost your relationship with a supervisor. Williams noted that one of her colleagues had a lower-level employee ask her if it was all right to book her Monday-morning manicure at the same time and place. While this may seem too personal for some managers, this particular boss thought it showed initiative and creativity, plus it gave them a time to leisurely plan the week ahead while catching up. You can use the same tactic by asking your boss if it would be ok to attend the same networking event or yoga class together. Not sure if it’s too personal? Follow your boss’ lead, says Williams. If she occasionally spends time with other employees outside the office or if she talked to you about a particular hobby or event, feel free to ask if you can join. And make it clear that you would totally understand if they’d rather you not tag along, says Williams.
Don’t wait for an excuse
Showing your boss a little extra appreciation is crucial even before they’ve offered you emotional support, so don’t wait to repay the favor. “If you take the time to do these things, you’re going to find that your boss is more inclined to help you out,” says Williams. At least once a week, take a minute to look for ways to make your boss’ job easier—from leaving an interesting article in her inbox to clueing her in to an upcoming industry event. “Whether they’re doing you a favor or not, this is good for your career,” says Williams.