The Benefits of Emotional Intelligence at Work

The Benefits of Emotional Intelligence at Work

“There’s no crying in baseball” and there’s certainly no place for it at the office either. At least this is what many of us have been taught in our professional lives. An unshakable exterior is often associated with professionalism and maturity, furthering the narrative that our emotions are the enemy of our success at work. However, the increasing demand for employees with so-called “soft skills” has changed the way organizations think about the role of emotions at work. Intuition, interpersonal savvy, and empathy are all essential skills in today’s workplace, none of which would be possible without understanding our own emotions and the emotions of those around us. This is perhaps why emotional intelligence (EI) has become such a highly sought-after skill set, with 71% of hiring managers stating that they valued EI over IQ when hiring or promoting employees.1

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is defined as the ability and willingness to attend to and modify emotions in the self and others, often through empathy and controlled emotional expression. People who are emotionally intelligent are adept at recognizing and managing their own emotions as well as communicating those emotions to others through non-verbal cues. Emotionally intelligent individuals are also able to identify and regulate the emotions of others and are highly empathetic. These core elements of EI provide the foundation for effective intrapersonal processes, such as leveraging emotions to facilitate goal achievement, as well as interpersonal behaviors, such as building strong relationships with coworkers and conflict management.

The Benefits of Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

Employers are increasingly looking for employees with high levels of both cognitive ability (IQ) and emotional intelligence (EI).2 Although having technical skills and job-relevant knowledge are important predictors of performance in any job, employees who truly excel are often those who can successfully navigate the nuanced social landscape of the workplace. EI enables employees to read the emotions and nonverbal cues of others, helping them to understand what is expected of them and giving them the tools to adjust their behavior accordingly. This ability to readily and efficiently interpret unspoken information can allow more effort to be directed towards completing tasks and achieving performance goals. As a result, it is perhaps not surprising that supervisors tend to rate their emotionally intelligent employees higher on task performance, interpersonal facilitation, and job dedication than their less proficient peers.3

The recognition and regulation of one’s own emotions can also help buffer against job-related stress4 and facilitate effective coping strategies that help the employee persevere through difficult times.5 These advanced self-regulatory mechanisms are not only beneficial to the employees themselves, but also to the organization since these employees also tend to be more engaged and less likely to leave the organization.6

The Emotionally Intelligent Leader

Emotional intelligence may be especially beneficial for effective leadership. Effective leaders know how to balance logic (IQ) and intuition (EQ) when making decisions.7 Although tough choices can necessitate rational judgment, the ability to factor in information from the social world may actually yield better results than relying on hard facts alone. For example, empathic leaders may be more equipped to evaluate the impact of their decisions on the people they work with compared to leaders who are less empathic, which can enhance trust and bolster organizational culture.

Leaders with higher levels of EI tend to have greater self-awareness, which means they have a good sense of what they do well while being cognizant of areas that may require development. Having a realistic sense of self can help leaders know when a situation is well suited to their strengths and when leveraging others’ talents may be more appropriate. Leaders who are self-aware are also more agile, adaptable, and receptive to feedback,8 qualities that are crucial for success in today’s fast-paced work environment.

Not only are leaders in charge of their own performance at work, but they are also responsible for creating a supportive, engaging environment that enables direct reports to reach their highest potential. Being skilled at managing the outward expression of emotions helps reduce ambiguity and facilitate trust between an emotionally intelligent leader and their direct reports. Emotionally intelligent leaders understand that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to motivating direct reports. In order to galvanize employees into action and encourage high levels of discretionary effort, leaders must empathize with their direct reports and learn what works for each individual employee. Leaders who are disconnected from their workforce will have much more difficulty leveraging the full potential of their human capital. 

The Benefits of EI for Teamwork

Interpersonal skills are becoming increasingly important as organizations implement more teams-based work. Emotions are inherent in all aspects of our social interactions with others.9 Therefore, working effectively with others requires the intelligent communication of your own emotions and interpretation of the emotions of others around you. A good teammate is socially astute and knows how to work well with others. Indeed, one research study showed that emotional appraisal and social skills in teams were key for building trust and facilitating higher levels of team performance10. Being part of a team and working with others who may share different viewpoints can also be challenging, making conflict resolution and empathy essential for optimal team functioning. Research has connected EI to constructive conflict management strategies11, further emphasizing the importance of EI for teams.

SIGMA Can Help

Regardless of your industry or position within your organization, we can all stand to benefit from harnessing our emotional intelligence in some capacity. Although some individuals may be naturally predisposed to be more emotionally intelligent, research has demonstrated that EI can be learned.12 If you’d like to develop your own critical people skills, or you are looking to build towards a more emotionally intelligent workplace, SIGMA has the leadership assessments to help you get started. The Multidimensional Emotional Intelligence Assessment-Workplace-Revised (MEIA-W-R) is a reliable, valid measure of emotional intelligence specifically designed to capture EI at work. The MEIA-W-R’s easy, online administration and user-friendly report generation is ideally suited to help identify the facets of EI that individuals are inclined towards and which facets require further growth. Check out our website, or contact us if you’d like more information. We’re always happy to chat!

1,2 Silliker, A. (2011, October 24). EI valued more than IQ in hiring, promoting. Canadian HR Reporter.

3 Law, K. S., Wong, C. S., & Song, L. J. (2004). The construct and criterion validity of emotional intelligence and its potential utility for management studies. Journal of Applied Psychology89(3), 483-496.

4 Karimi, L., Leggat, S. G., Donohue, L., Farrell, G., & Couper, G. E. (2014). Emotional rescue: The role of emotional intelligence and emotional labour on well‐being and job‐stress among community nurses. Journal of Advanced Nursing70, 176-186.

5 Enns, A., Eldridge, G. D., Montgomery, C., & Gonzalez, V. M. (2018). Perceived stress, coping strategies, and emotional intelligence: a cross-sectional study of university students in helping disciplines. Nurse Education Today68, 226-231.

6 Brunetto, Y., Teo, S. T., Shacklock, K., & Farr‐Wharton, R. (2012). Emotional intelligence, job satisfaction, well‐being and engagement: explaining organisational commitment and turnover intentions in policing. Human Resource Management Journal22(4), 428-441.

7 Smith, M., Van Oosten, E., & Boyatzis, R. E. (2020, June 12). The Best Managers Balance Analytical and Emotional Intelligence. Harvard Business Review.

8 Edmondson, A. C., & Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2020, October 19). Today’s Leaders Need Vulnerability, Not Bravado. Harvard Business Review.

9 Van Kleef, G. A. (2009). How emotions regulate social life: The emotions as social information (EASI) model. Current Directions in Psychological Science18(3), 184-188.

10 Chang, J. W., Sy, T., & Choi, J. N. (2012). Team emotional intelligence and performance: Interactive dynamics between leaders and members. Small Group Research43(1), 75-104.

11 Schlaerth, A., Ensari, N., & Christian, J. (2013). A meta-analytical review of the relationship between emotional intelligence and leaders’ constructive conflict management. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations16, 126-136.

12 MindTools Content Team. (n.d.) Emotional intelligence: Developing strong “people skills”. MindTools.

About the Author

Helen Schroeder

Marketing Coordinator

Helen completed a dual degree with Ivey Business School’s HBA program and Western University’s Honours Specialization in Psychology. As a Marketing Coordinator and Consultant she creates and manages content for SIGMA’s webpages, blogs, and coaching resources. Helen also assists in new product development, go-to-market strategy, and client consultation.