Management Sciences Research

Bounded emotionality at work

Emotional labor is the expression of particular emotions at work aims at maximizing organizational productivity and customer satisfaction. Bounded emotionality derived from emotional labor and is the expression of a wider range of emotions at work that encourages community building and personal well-being in the workplace. Understanding these concepts will allows us to elaborate on the implications that emotional labor and bounded emotionality have at work.

Bounded emotionality

According to Putnam and Mumby (1993), bounded emotionality is the expression of a wider range of emotions than is usually accepted in traditional and normative organizations, but maintaining boundaries between what is felt and what is expressed. Bounded emotionality has six main characteristics:

  • Inter-subjective limitations, as the emotional expression in organizations should be bounded for interpersonal relationships to function effectively (recognition of individual subjectivity).
  • Spontaneously emergent work feelings, because work feelings should emerge spontaneously from the performance of tasks.
  • Tolerance of ambiguity, due to the coexistence of contradictory feelings, positions, and demands.
  • Heterarchy of goals, as no set of values takes precedence over others.
  • Integrated self identity, understood as being oneself at work.
  • Community building, as bounded emotionality facilitates strong feelings of community among organizational members.

What we know about bounded emotionality comes from a limited set of small, often nonprofit organization, being bounded emotionality time-consuming and non-instrumental. This leads to question if it is possible to enact bounded emotionality in a large, for-profit organization given the efficiency and financial pressures of the competitive marketplace.
Some of the facilitating factors to enact bounded emotionality are:

  • Proportion of women, as an unusual prevalence of women in an organization might prompt innovative, self-disclosing emotional management practices to emerge. Moreover, once at high-level management positions, the willingness to influence the development of bounded emotionality might increase.
  • Organization’s ideology, as chances of success are greater to the extent that ideology is congruent with some of the fundamental elements of bounded emotionality.

Impediments to the Implementation of bounded emotionality

Nevertheless, the implementation of bounded emotionality in the organization might face the following challenges:

  • Effects on growth depending on the size of the organization. In large organizations a lack of interpersonal closeness can lead to impersonality.
  • Limitations of the labour market, as there might be a shortage of qualified candidates for managerial positions that have the needed emotional skills.
  • Dealing with emotional diversity, as those who had difficulty complying with the demands for emotional openness might encounter informal requests for conformity.
  • Resistance in those cases when some employees might question bounded emotionality.
  • Attempts to separate public and private life, as the integration of work-private concerns can face opposition from some employees.
  • Stress at work, as the instrumental concerns may take priority over an individual’s personal or family needs.

When to implement bounded emotionality?

In practice it is virtually impossible to separate instrumental emotional labor and non instrumental work feelings (bounded emotionality), particularly when the employees share values with the company. In order to assess a conscious implementation of bounded emotionality to our organization, we should answer some guiding questions: Is bounded emotionality a better way of doing business from employees’ point of view, or is it a more effective, more invasive, and therefore potentially more dangerous control mechanism that might lead to emotional exploitation? Is a pure bounded emotionality approach feasible within the constraints of our industry? Isn’t it better for the employee well-being to be able to separate work and private life? These are merely a sample of possible questions that we need to think about before starting to change anything in our organization.
The proper implementation of bounded emotionality can help to build cohesion inside of the organization and make everyone feel as being in the same boat. Nevertheless, each captain should always have on the radar where are the riffs in bounded emotionality, so to avoid them for the good of all.