Emotional Intelligence: The HR Professional’s Guide to Fostering a Thriving Workplace

Jan 18, 2024 | Employee Engagement, HR Trends

Emotional intelligence plays an essential role in success at every level of an organization. From employees to managers and executives, each individual should strive to grow emotional intelligence (EI). When everyone commits to making this effort, a thriving, supportive culture will emerge.

Emotional intelligence in leaders and managers holds special importance. Managers play a key role in shaping employee well-being, but their success in doing so depends largely on their level of EI. While IQ is important, in the modern workplace, EI is what really matters. How well people can manage their emotions and shapes their ability to manage and lead others. If employees feel uncared for by their boss, they are 69% more likely to seek a new job or suffer from burnout. According to Gallup, just a quarter of employees feel their organization truly cares about them—and strengthening emotional intelligence can help correct this serious problem.

In this article, we’ll delve into the transformative power of emotional intelligence in the workplace. We’ll also discuss how to assess EI in employees and potential hires, along with the relationship between emotional intelligence and leadership effectiveness. Then, we’ll talk about how HR can help everyone cultivate a high level of EI through emotional intelligence training.

Table of Contents

1. The Pillars of Emotional Intelligence in HR Practices

2. Assessing Emotional Intelligence: A Role for HR

3. Developing EI in Employees: Strategies for HR Professionals

4. Emotional Intelligence in Leadership: Cultivating Empathetic Leaders

5. Measuring the Impact of EI Initiatives

The Pillars of Emotional Intelligence in HR Practices

Employees practising an exercise to develop EI
Credit: Ivan Samkov/Pexels

What exactly is emotional intelligence, and how does it influence the modern workplace? 

Daniel Goleman popularized the concept in 1995 in his book Emotional Intelligence. In a nutshell, EI involves the ability to manage your own emotions and understand those of others. Leaders with a high level of EI work effectively with other people, gaining their trust and shaping their growth. As Justin Bariso writes in Inc., “Developing your emotional intelligence means learning how to make emotions work for you, instead of against you.”

Emotional intelligence has four core components, as the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) explains: 

  • Self-awareness. Only 10–15% of people are truly self-aware, meaning many are unaware of how their emotions drive their behaviour. People with self-awareness bring out the best in themselves, as Harvard Business School (HBS) says. They understand what they are feeling, what it stems from, and how it affects their performance and relationships.
  • Self-management. People with EI can regulate their emotions instead of being controlled by them. They adopt strategies for bringing their emotions into balance when stress arises.
  • Social awareness. This dimension of EI involves being empathetic toward others while striving to understand what they are feeling and why. 
  • Relationship management. This entails addressing conflict in healthy ways, coaching others, and communicating effectively, as HBS explains. 

Core emotional intelligence skills include adaptability, positivity, motivation to achieve, teamwork skills, and the ability to influence and inspire others. Self-confidence, openness to change, cross-cultural sensitivity, integrity, and persuasiveness are crucial EI qualities as well, says Mohammed Issah in SAGE Open.

Assessing Emotional Intelligence: A Role for HR

The HR team meeting to discuss how to assess the employees' emotional intelligence.
Credit: fauxels/Pexels

To perform at their best, all employees need to use emotional intelligence in the workplace. So, integrate an assessment of EI into recruitment, onboarding, and performance evaluation.

Integrating EI into the Hiring Process

During hiring interviews, ask questions like these: 

  • How do you actively cultivate self-awareness and leverage these insights?
  • If two coworkers were experiencing a dispute, how would you mediate it?
  • Think of a time when you encountered a serious setback or disruption at work. On an emotional level, how did you react? How did this affect your ability to recover from the incident?
  • Tell me about a time when a peer or manager pointed out an issue with your work. How did you respond?
  • Describe a time when you disagreed with your manager on a serious matter. How did you handle it?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to share tough feedback with someone else.

Candidates with a high level of EI will have detailed answers that sound genuine. They’ll reveal their ability to receive and share criticism tactfully and take accountability for mistakes. Talk with references about these topics, too. 

During the onboarding period, managers can then pay close attention to how employees perform in these areas. This will allow for a cursory assessment of their EI.

Incorporate EI into 360 Reviews and Performance Appraisals 

360 reviews provide a great way of assessing emotional intelligence in current employees, say Daniel Goleman and Richard E. Boyatzis in Harvard Business Review. The results will reveal whether an employee shows up with EI in their daily work with their team. Plus, 360 reviews enhance self-awareness, providing guidance on strengthening emotional intelligence.

Performance appraisals should also focus on various aspects of emotional intelligence. To evaluate EI in performance appraisals and 360s, consider questions like these (answers can be given on a numeric scale):

How effectively does this employee …

  • Receive feedback?
  • Take accountability for errors?
  • Share constructive criticism?
  • Maintain a positive attitude?
  • Handle change or disruption?
  • Mentor peers in developing a skill?
  • Handle conflict?
  • Communicate with peers during challenging times?
  • Spearhead a tough project?
  • Support peers who feel frustrated?
  • Ask people about their needs?

For example, does the employee make others feel heard and understood? Does she express feedback candidly and with empathy? Does she share knowledge and advice in a way that feels empowering to others? If so, she may have a high level of emotional intelligence.

Developing EI in Employees: Strategies for HR Professionals

Employees practising an exercise to develop EI
Credit: Ivan Samkov/Pexels

Using several practical strategies, your HR team can develop and enhance EI within the workforce. Challenge people to use and grow emotional intelligence skills in these ways:

  1. Offering an emotional intelligence self-assessment. Through this simple exercise, they can gain a better understanding of where they excel and fall short, in terms of EI.
  2. Providing training programs and workshops. In such programs, employees could role-play scenarios that call for emotional intelligence. They may also debrief recent interactions with a trainer to discuss what went well or poorly.
  3. Offering regular mentoring and feedback. Try to connect every employee with a mentor who has a high level of EI.
  4. Sharing daily practices that can build EI skills. Prompt employees to adopt these daily practices:
    • Pause or step away to process emotions before reacting. Taking a breather can help you gather your thoughts instead of responding rashly.
    • Find a safe emotional outlet: A journal, a trusted friend, or a therapist. Name your emotions and look for patterns in what you’re experiencing and why, as HBS says.
    • Challenge yourself to fully listen to other people when they’re speaking. Withhold judgment, focusing on truly understanding the other person’s perspective, CCL advises.
    • Notice what other people are feeling during interactions and meetings. Pay attention to tone, body language, words, and expressions.
    • Imagine what it might feel like to be in someone else’s shoes. Pay attention to how your words and actions influence their emotions, as Courtney E. Ackerman says in Positive Psychology.
    • Ask others about how they’re feeling, what motivates them, and other aspects of their daily experience at work. For instance, you might say, “I’ve noticed you’ve been quieter in meetings lately. Is there something that would help you feel more comfortable participating?” 
    • Stay physically active, eat well, and get plenty of rest.
    • Take accountability for mistakes, acknowledging their impacts on others.

Working remotely can make it more challenging to notice how others are feeling, as the BBC notes. So, ask more questions, making time to check in with coworkers one on one. Showing a little extra empathy will go a long way.

Emotional Intelligence in Leadership: Cultivating Empathetic Leaders

Empathetic leaders gathering for a meeting
Credit: August de Richelieu/Pexels

Emotional intelligence serves as an excellent predictor of who will become a good leader. When leaders grow emotional intelligence skills, it has reverberating effects throughout the organization. They become more effective coaches and mentors as they show empathy and real understanding. They help direct reports define personal goals that feel truly meaningful. When problems like burnout arise, leaders spot them quickly and work to address their root causes. And they become adept at leading through change. As a result, employee satisfaction, retention, and company performance improve. 

Just as with employees, leverage 360s to assess EI in leaders. 360 reviews are the best tool for predicting leadership success, strong business performance, and high engagement, due to their ability to gauge a person’s EI, say Goleman and Boyatzis. 

Then, provide coaching for leaders on developing emotional intelligence. “Coaching is the most effective method for improving in areas of EI deficit,” say Goleman and Boyatzis. “Having expert support during your ups and downs as you practice operating in a new way is invaluable.” A good coach can talk through specific scenarios with leaders, helping them understand how they can show more emotional intelligence in those situations.

Here are a few areas that leaders can focus on to grow their EI.

Staying Calm and Centered

“Even if they don’t have immediate solutions, emotionally intelligent leaders are able to maintain calm in the face of difficulties,” writes Harvey Deutschendorf in Fast Company. “This can help their team focus their energy on coming up with solutions, rather than needlessly squandering time and effort on fear and worry.”

Leaders should challenge themselves to stay collected in tough situations. By staying grounded, they’ll keep their team moving forward even during times of disruption.

Being Sincere and Authentic

Leaders with EI know how to be vulnerable without losing composure. They can laugh at their mistakes, when appropriate, or admit they don’t have the answer to a question. They enjoy getting to know others as whole people and being their authentic selves in turn. These qualities forge a deeper level of trust and camaraderie with their team.

Encouraging Others to Fulfill Their Potential

Leaders with EI help employees tap into their innovative and creative abilities, as Sanjay Sehgal says in Forbes. They enhance the employee experience by sharing ongoing support and guidance. Their consistent efforts to nurture each person’s growth make employees feel valued.

Measuring the Impact of EI Initiatives

Like any initiative, efforts to integrate EI into your workforce must be regularly measured. How can this be done?

Establish metrics and KPIs to track improvements in the following areas:

  • Satisfaction with manager relationship
  • Employee engagement and motivation
  • Team camaraderie, communication, and collaboration
  • Level of support and development employees receive
  • Employee well-being and work/life balance
  • Conflict resolution
  • Job satisfaction
  • Workplace morale

Improving emotional intelligence in employees and leaders will enhance all of these areas. Use sophisticated analytics tools to establish a baseline and track progress toward KPIs. These software solutions will help you visualize workforce trends in areas like these. Survey employees on these topics as well. Their level of satisfaction in areas like manager relationships and the level of support they’re receiving will show whether their manager’s EI has grown. Meanwhile, satisfaction in areas like team communication will show whether peers’ EI has increased.

Furthermore, continue using 360 reviews to track changes in individuals’ EI. Peers, direct reports, and managers will observe these changes firsthand, making their feedback invaluable. Make sure you ask similar questions in each review so you can accurately gauge progress.

Emotional intelligence in the workplace has the power to transform team dynamics and enhance the potential of each individual. From employees to leaders and HR managers, EI will strengthen each person’s contributions. By championing emotional intelligence every step of the way, HR will cultivate a more harmonious and productive work environment.

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