Emotional intelligence has often been cited as a powerful solution to a range of workplace problems. For example, developing emotional intelligence is associated with more effective leadership and job performance. But how can it be used to improve wellbeing in the workplace?
What is emotional intelligence?
Emotional intelligence refers to a specific form of intelligence which is centred around using emotional information in a meaningful way. This includes the way we perceive and express our own emotions, develop and maintain social relationships, cope with challenges and make decisions. It’s not about suppressing our emotions nor being overly emotional. Instead, it involves using our emotional and social skills in an intelligent way to help us navigate everyday life.
What is the link between emotional intelligence and wellbeing in the workplace?
Emotional intelligence is a strong predictor of improved wellbeing. For example, research suggests that people with higher levels of emotional intelligence are better able to cope with stress, challenges, and organisational change. Multiple studies have also highlighted the link between emotionally intelligent individuals and increased levels of happiness, psychological adjustment and life satisfaction. The benefits of emotional intelligence on a person’s wellbeing continue into the workplace, with higher levels of it reducing the risk of workplace burnout and increasing people’s ability to cope with the emotional demands of their role.
How does emotional intelligence improve wellbeing in the workplace?
Below are just 5 examples of how emotional intelligence leads to improved wellbeing, along with suggestions for how you can develop your own and your team’s emotional intelligence in the workplace.
Someone who is emotionally intelligent is likely to have a high sense of self-regard which means that they tend to feel confident in their skills and abilities. This confidence cultivates a positive self-image and encourages people to believe that they have the resources to successfully deal with any challenges they face.
Individual Development: Reflecting on previous accomplishments, as well as your strengths and weaknesses, are both useful ways to begin developing your self-regard.
Developing your team: To start developing the self-regard of your team, consider how you can provide positive feedback to others and celebrate their achievements on a regular basis.
Emotionally intelligent people also tend to be more self-actualised individuals. This means that they are likely to pursue meaningful goals which leads to a stronger sense of purpose and fulfilment in life. They also tend to continually pursue self-improvement and according to research, a strong commitment to learning can contribute to a person’s overall happiness.
Individual Development: Consider what you are passionate about and ensure you are spending time working on these areas that are most important to you.
Developing your team: As a leader, try to support people with their career development. This may be in the form of financial support, or by blocking out time for them to attend courses.
- Interpersonal Relationships
A high level of emotional intelligence involves using interpersonal skills to help develop and maintain relationships with others. Having a solid social support network helps to protect people from the negative effects of stress, as they are able to rely on others during more difficult times. The ability to connect, support, and empathise with others has also been shown to build resilience and wellbeing.
Individual Development: Take time to learn more about your colleagues outside of a work context. For example, ask them questions about their interests or plans before discussing the main purpose of the meeting.
Developing your team: To develop relationships within the team, you could start a mentoring or peer support programme. This can help establish connections between your colleagues.
People with high levels of emotional intelligence are also more likely to maintain an optimistic outlook on life. Optimistic people are better able to manage stress and tend to have positive expectations about the future, even during difficult situations. This positive perspective contributes to their levels of happiness and helps them to bounce back quickly from setbacks.
Individual Development: One way to develop your optimism is to practice the art of gratitude. Write a list of things you are thankful for at work and keep it at your desk to look back on in difficult times.
Developing your team: Frame the team’s challenges and problems as learning opportunities. This perspective encourages the team to shift from a negative mindset and focus on the more positive outcomes that could occur instead.
- Stress Tolerance
Another key aspect of emotional intelligence is that of stress management. Having high emotional intelligence helps individuals to have effective coping strategies in the face of setbacks and stressful situations, making them more resilient and adaptable when challenges arise. By successfully reducing their stress levels, they are less likely to experience the negative effects of stress.
Individual Development: Think about the strategies you currently use to cope with stress. Are they effective? If not, could you try other strategies such as exercise, deep breathing techniques or confiding in a colleague?
Developing your team: Increase the stress tolerance of your team by encouraging your team to take regular breaks and set healthy work boundaries. Lead by example and refrain from contacting your team or checking your emails outside of work hours.
If you’re looking to develop your own or your team’s wellbeing, then developing emotional intelligence may be just the place to start.
Armstrong, A. R., Galligan, R. F., & Critchley, C. R. (2011). Emotional intelligence and psychological resilience to negative life events. Personality and Individual Differences, 51(3), 331-336.
Bumphus, A. T. (2008). The emotional intelligence and resilience of school leaders: An investigation into leadership behaviors (Doctoral dissertation). University of Mississippi. Retrieved from: https://aquila.usm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2232&context=dissertations
Di Fabio, A., & Kenny, M. (2016). Promoting well-being: The contribution of emotional intelligence. Frontiers in Psychology,17, 1-13.
Endler, N. S., & Parker, J. D. A. (1990). Coping inventory for stressful situations (CISS): Manual. Toronto, Canada: Multi-Health Systems, Inc.
Furnell, B. A. (2008). Exploring the relationship between burnout, emotional labour and emotional intelligence: A study on call centre representatives (Doctoral dissertation, Stellenbosch: Stellenbosch University).
Haffey, K. E. (2007). The relationship between emotional intelligence and psychological adjustment in children with cancer. Dissertation Abstracts International, Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 7373.
Lucy, D., Poorkavoos, M., & Thompson, A. (2014). Building Resilience: Five Key Capabilites. Roffey park institute.
MHS Staff. (2011). Emotional Quotient Inventory 2.0 (EQ-i 2.0) Technical Manual. Toronto: Multi-Health Systems Inc.
Mind. (n.d.). How to promote wellbeing and tackle the causes of work-related mental health problems. Retrieved from: https://www.mind.org.uk/media-a/4662/resource3_howtopromotewellbeingfinal.pdf
Nelis, D., Kotsou, I., Quoidbach, J., Hansenne, M., Weytens, F., Dupuis, P., & Mikolajczak, M. (2011). Increasing emotional competence improves psychological and physical well-being, social relationships, and employability. Emotion, 11(2), 354-366.
NHS. (2019). 5 Steps to Mental Wellbeing. Retrieved from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/improve-mental-wellbeing/
Schneider, T. R., Lyons, J. B., & Khazon, S. (2013). Emotional intelligence and resilience. Personality and Individual Differences, 55(8), 909-914.
Shahid, R., Stirling, J., & Adams, W. (2018). Promoting wellness and stress management in residents through emotional intelligence training. Advances in Medical Education and Practice, 9, 681-686.
Stein, S. J., & Book, H. E. (2011). The EQ edge: Emotional intelligence and your success. (3rd Edition). John Wiley & Sons.
Yalcin, B. M., Karahan, T. F., Ozcelik, M., & Igde, F. A. (2008). The effects of an emotional intelligence program on the quality of life and well-being of patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. The Diabetes Educator, 34(6), 1013-1024.
Chloe Tuffrey is the Product and Strategy manager at Psysoft Ltd., an occupational psychology consultancy which provides assessment, coaching and training services to help clients recruit, retain and develop talented people. Chloe is an experienced trainer in the EQ-i 2.0 & EQ 360 emotional intelligence assessments and the designer of EQ Extra, a suite of animated videos to support people’s development of emotional intelligence.