Author(s), Title and Publication:

Jia, M., Cheng, J., & Hale, C. L. (2017). Workplace emotion and communication: Supervisor nonverbal immediacy, employees’ emotion experience, and their communication motives. Management Communication Quarterly, 31(1), 69-87.


Employee emotions are an essential component of a holistic ecosystem of organizational behavior, playing a powerful role in building and maintaining relationships, as well as in the overall workplace experience. Specifically, employee emotion experience includes the general judgment of positive/negative responses (i.e. emotional valence); employees’ emotional effort expended to maintain relationships with supervisors (i.e. emotional work); and (3) emotional support received from supervisors. Emotional communication in the workplace that aims to alleviate stress could be beneficial to a healthy supervisor–subordinate relationship and to employee emotional well being. In addition, employees perceived less need to carefully manage their emotions when their supervisor was nonverbally immediate. Since employee emotions arise from daily communication with supervisors, the study argues that employees’ nonverbal immediacy-communicative behaviors used to enhance physical or psychological closeness and reduce interpersonal distance-will influence employees’ emotion experience, which further affects their relational oriented motives, such as pleasure, affection, inclusion, and relaxation, and personal influence motives such as escape and control for communicating with their supervisors.

Six hundred and eight employees of various roles, ranks, and industries participated in a survey. Results suggest that supervisor nonverbal immediacy exerts strong influence on employees’ emotion experience, such that employees perceive more emotional support from their supervisors and less necessity to engage in emotion work. In addition, the desirable emotion experience induced by supervisor nonverbal immediacy further motivates employees to fulfill their needs for pleasant, inclusive, affectionate, and relaxed interactions with their supervisors. However, neither supervisors’ nonverbal immediacy nor employees’ emotional experience influences employees’ escape or control communication motives.

Implications for Practitioners

Supervisors should 1) more often demonstrate nonverbal immediacy cues to employees, including behaviors such as sitting close, touching, nodding, smiling, and being vocally expressive; 2) encourage employees to express authentic emotions to reduce employees’ emotional work, because excessive emotional work will lead to emotional exhaustion and high employee turnover.

Location of Article

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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