The Link Between Emotional Intelligence & Wellbeing
‘Employee Wellbeing’ and ‘Emotional Intelligence’ (EI or EQ for short) are two terms that are being more widely used in organisations than ever before. Employee wellbeing has, rightfully, found itself in the organisational spotlight following the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw huge changes to working norms for most of us.
Emotional Intelligence, which was originally introduced as a concept back in the 1990s by Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer, has been growing in prevalence too, with McKinsey & Company declaring back in 2018 that the need for EI skills would outpace the demand for cognitive skills through 2030. So what do these two terms actually mean and how do they relate to one another? Wellbeing is concerned with the state of employees’ mental and physical health, resulting from dynamics within (and sometimes outside of) the workplace. It is the capability to actively participate in work, create important relationships with others, and to establish positive emotions. Wellbeing has been repeatedly linked to productivity and company performance, and according to new research from Boston University and Future Workplace, is now the number 1 focus of senior HR leaders in 2022 and beyond. EI, on the other hand, was defined by David Goleman in his book: “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ” as: “The ability to perceive, use, understand, manage, and handle emotions”. Goleman argues that Emotional Intelligence is as important as IQ for success, both inside and out of the workplace.
Whilst employee wellbeing becoming a strategic priority is great news, the jury is still out on how effective some company’s wellbeing programmes will be. A recent survey by Willis Towers Watson found that more than half (54%) of participants referenced ‘rising stress’ or ‘burnout’ as the biggest challenges to wellbeing at work, but unfortunately the same study found that only a mere 29% of employers believed that their wellbeing initiatives were effective in supporting employees during the pandemic.
This is where a focus on employee’s Emotional Intelligence could have a useful role to play.
The world’s leading measure of Emotional Intelligence, called the EQ-i 2.0, measures an individual’s Emotional Intelligence across five different composite areas: Self-Perception, Self-Expression, Interpersonal, Decision Making and Stress Management. These areas are then broken down further into 15 subsections, including competencies such as Emotional Awareness, Impulse Control, Problem Solving and Assertiveness.
Whilst people used to believe that Emotional Intelligence is something you simply either have or don’t have, this has been proven to be false. In reality, Emotional Intelligence can be gained and improved at any point in life.
In fact, the evidence suggests that a well-designed Emotional Intelligence programme can easily achieve increases to EQ scores of 25%. For stress management in particular, the average improvements rise to 35%. Even empathy can be trained in adults due to the “plasticity” of the social brain. Studies suggest that, with adequate training, people can become more pro-social, altruistic, and compassionate.
The commercial advantages to increasing employee's Emotional Intelligence are several: productivity, overall performance and employee retention to name a few, but what is perhaps most pertinent, given the current business agenda, is the link between higher Emotional Intelligence and overall wellbeing.
There are multiple studies to show that higher Emotional Intelligence leads to enhanced psychological wellbeing and that Emotional Intelligence training can develop meaningfulness at work and overall happiness. Specifically, a higher level of Emotional Intelligence can lead to outcomes such as reduced stress and anxiety, less conflict, improved relationships and increased job satisfaction.
Furthermore, with rising stress cited as one of the biggest blocks to wellbeing at work, and 2019 research by Lea, Davis & Mahoney concluding that Emotional Intelligence can help you recover more quickly from acute stress, the connection here is clear.
Arguably, it should not have taken a global pandemic to push employee wellbeing to the top of businesses’ agendas, but now that it is here, it seems wise for organisations to explore the role that an Emotional Intelligence development programme can play in supporting this workplace priority.