Men more open with emotions at work than women, study reveals

Research indicates men are more likely to confide in bosses about affairs of the heart and be more accepting of workplace romances than women.

Men are likely to be more open with their emotions, confide in their bosses about affairs of the heart and be more accepting of workplace romances than women, according to the latest study on emotional intelligence and office relationships by employee engagement firm Perkbox.

The research, involving 1,050 UK managers and employees, showed that 60 per cent of men feel comfortable confiding in their bosses on personal issues such as the break-up of a relationship with a partner or spouse, if they felt that it would interfere with them doing their job properly. Only half of women say the same.

Age appears to influence an employee’s ability to confide in their boss: nearly 50 per cent of those who admit it would be difficult were aged between 35 and 54. Only 22 per cent of 55-64 year olds and a quarter of 18-34 year olds feel the same – indicating that both millennials and baby boomers are more amenable to opening up emotionally to their managers if needed.

A third of UK bosses meanwhile believe it is important for employees to inform them if they are going through emotional trouble, such as the breakdown of a relationship. However, the vast majority of managers (46 per cent) believe that employees should keep such things to themselves – both male bosses (48 per cent) and older bosses aged 55-64 (54 per cent) feel this especially, versus 43 per cent of female bosses and bosses aged 34 and under.

Overall, only 45 per cent of employees state that their employer had been supportive when they confide in their boss about their emotional difficulties. The North East (31 per cent) and Scotland (36 per cent) had the most supportive bosses while bosses in London (21 per cent) and the South West (16 per cent) were least supportive of their employees.

Cubical courtships are a frisky business when things turn sour

With UK employees clocking in more hours at the office than ever before, the workplace has become a common environment for love to blossom. Overall, a third of employees have had a relationship with a colleague at some point in their career – equating to some 8.85 million of the 26.8 million employees in the UK – 17 per cent of these workplace couplings result in marriages or civil partnerships.

However, cubical courtships end in tears for one in seven workers who have had to leave their jobs largely because of a failed romance with a colleague, representing 5 per cent of all employees – or 4 million workers. More men (20 per cent) than women (12 per cent) resigned because of this, while the vast majority of workers aged over 35-54 stuck it out.

Men appear to be more accepting of workplace relationships than women by 9 percentage points, 67 per cent believe that they are not a problem as long as these do not interfere with work; 27 per cent of men believe that love affairs between colleagues are no one else’s business other than that of the two people involved.

Overall, managers are quite accepting of office romances, 62 per cent have no problems with such unions provided that this did not impact on an employee’s job. In fact, older bosses aged 45 and above were noticeably more accepting of this (51 per cent) than bosses aged 35 and under (45 per cent).

That said, a quarter of workplaces confirm that they had policies in place which discourage romantic relationships at work; 7 per cent of which are reflected in employment contracts, while 18 per cent have an unspoken rule against workplace romances.

Affairs of the heart at work require emotional intelligence

The phenomenon of ’emotional intelligence’ describes an ability to recognise and understand emotions and its impact on behaviour. It may dictate how effectively and respectfully a manager treats his or her employees, and how an employee may communicate with his or her colleagues – particularly within stressful situations, from managing deadline pressures to dealing with workplace conflict and personal trauma.

The study finds that 70 per cent of employees believe emotional intelligence to be very important in their job role; a greater proportion of women (75 per cent) value the trait more than men (64 per cent).

The perceived importance of emotional intelligence appears to increase with age too, with 45 per cent of 18-24 years understanding its value against 70 per cent of 25-43 year olds, 72 per cent of 35-44 year olds and 74 per cent of 45-54 year olds.

Bosses need to care about their employees

Meanwhile, a greater proportion of employees (81 per cent) say it was even more important for bosses to possess and exercise emotional intelligence. The most cited reasons included the belief that it ‘made bosses fairer and more empathetic’ (54 per cent); ‘it made employees feel that the company cared about their wellbeing’; and that it ‘improved teamwork and morale’ (48 per cent).

However, more than a quarter of UK bosses (28 per cent) view emotional intelligence as unimportant, 44 per cent maintaining that: ’employees should be professional and do their job regardless of their emotions and private lives.’

Chieu Cao, co-founder at Perkbox, says, ‘Today’s office is a theatre in which many of our everyday human dramas unfold – love, hate, friendships and conflict are all inevitably played out in the realms of our 9-5 job.

‘Having the emotional intelligence to navigate these challenges productively is absolutely vital in ensuring employees effectively self-regulate their emotions in the workplace and understand the impact it might have on other colleagues. It also ensures that managers remain professional and empathetic in dealing with their employees’ emotional well being.’

Chieu Cao adds, ‘It’s encouraging to see that men are becoming more open with their emotions and are confiding more in their bosses when it comes to affairs of the heart, as it goes against the very stereotypical codes of behaviour dictating how a man should emotionally conduct themselves professionally.

‘By contrast, women’s reluctance to open up emotionally at work serves to highlight the continuing challenges they face in business – to rebuke the gender-based conventional codes that posit them ‘too emotional’ and instead to be more poker faced and composed in the face of difficulty, lest the act of displaying or confiding in harms their career prospects.

‘It’s also quite concerning how half of UK bosses in our research see emotional intelligence as unimportant and that less than half have proven to be unsupportive of their employees during times of emotional strife.’

Cao concludes, ‘Effective employee engagement must absolutely include processes for managing emotional wellness. Neglecting to do so can have numerous implications on the physical wellness of the employee and therefore the ability to do the job at hand, to the personal resentment harboured at management for lack of support and imparting good old-fashioned human empathy.

‘The sooner bosses are able to get to grips with this – the most critical of all so-called ‘soft skills’ – using engagement tools and through training, the more adept they will be at creating the kind of inspirational work environment that employs the most successful and productive of teams.’

Further reading on men at work

Owen Gough, SmallBusiness UK

Owen Gough

Owen was a reporter for Bonhill Group plc writing across the and titles before moving on to be a Digital Technology reporter for the

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