The (emotion) work of managers: re-examining the managerial emotional labour process

Bolton, S.C. and Thory, K. (2010) The (emotion) work of managers: re-examining the managerial emotional labour process. In: 28th International Labour Process Conference, 2010-03-15 - 2010-03-17. (Unpublished)

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The emotion work of management has long been a focus in organisation studies – even early orthodox writers such as Barnard (1938) and Fayol (1949) speak of the ‘esprit de corps’, though they are also keen to recommend that ‘feelings’ remain outwith the process of management. This, however, is definitely not the case in contemporary descriptions of the work of managers. In recent accounts the focus on management and emotion has become especially dominant as the call continues for the development of more ‘passionate’ managers and involving and empowering forms of management (Hatcher, 2003; Mann, 1997). With the acceptance of ‘new’ managers as leaders, facilitators and network co-ordinators, the effective management of emotion (their own and employees) is now seen as ‘an important tool in every manager’s kit’ (Ashkanasay and Daus, 2002: 82). As conflicting reports emerge of managerial work as both intensifying and, yet at the same time, de-bureaucratising, it is little wonder that confusion has arisen over how best to conceptualise the managerial labour process and, most especially, its emotional elements. As a result we now have a vast array of research studies that draw on terms such as emotional intelligence, emotion work and emotional labour as conceptual frameworks. These accounts offer some interesting description of the life of managers without ever really considering the analytical ability of each frame to capture the reality of the emotion work that managers do (Caruso and Salovey, 2004; George, 2000; Hort et al, 2001; Huy, 2002; Mann, 1997; Turnbull, 1999). Indeed, some terms such as emotional intelligence and emotional labour have been stretched beyond recognition, bringing little sense or meaning to debates concerning the changing nature of managerial work. This paper attempts to address the conceptual confusion surrounding the emotion work of managers by going back to basics and considering what is it that managers do as part of their day-to-day labour process. Utilising labour process theory and recreating Hales’ (1986, 2002) list of nine managerial functions into four core areas - leader, negotiator, communicator and controller - we examine the emotion work that managers do. Drawing on qualitative data gathered from a cross-section of middle-managers, in a number of different sectors, we offer a revised conceptual landscape of managerial work by clearly defining what is (and is not) emotional intelligence, emotional labour and emotion work within the managerial labour process.


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