Importance of EI varies by job type

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Most HRDs agree that emotional intelligence (EI) has an impact on job performance but, until now, no published study has demonstrated that the value of EI for performance varies by job type.

As a psychologist I’ve been investigating for many years how this question fits into the complex challenge many HRDs face in the boardroom: showing how investing in people’s EI affects the bottom line. We call this emotional capital.

Our study provides HRDs with the data to answer, 'Is EI related to job performance in general or does EI play a more important role in particular kinds of jobs?'

Global findings by job role

Of the study’s 6,874 participants, spread over 11 countries and a number of business sectors, 3,167 occupations were classified as involving high emotional labour. Examples included marketing and sales persons, recruitment consultants, management consultants, travel agents and human resources professionals. After completing an occupational questionnaire, all participants filled in an Emotional Capital Report (ECR) – our scientific measure of emotional intelligence.

The results found that participants performing roles involving emotional labour scored significantly higher on all ECR scales than those in roles that involved less emotional labour.

In roles where emotional labour is critical (involving the ability to recognise emotions in yourself and others, and the ability to regulate your emotions to perform the demands of a job) having high EI proves a significant advantage. In other words, high EI is likely to be helpful to people in customer service roles, or caring roles, or those that involve social control such as law enforcement. These jobs require individuals to effectively manage their own emotional responses and the responses of other people to be successful. 

What this means for the HR professional

A number of studies have reported that emotional labour factors into various organisational outcomes including job satisfaction, customer satisfaction, and employee morale. Our findings suggest that where jobs require high emotional labour, EI is likely to help individuals to know both when to perform emotional labour and how to alter their emotional behaviour to meet the goals of the organisation. 

This has important implications for HR professionals seeking to maximise the effectiveness of their staff. Given that high EI is likely to provide the foundation for successful execution of roles involving emotional labour, organisations that invest in the development of EI in their employees are likely to see better results. This is true for those providing care and involved in social control, but is particularly relevant for customer service roles. 

Altering one’s emotional display depends first of all on being able to recognise one’s emotional experience. Competencies such as self-knowing, self-reliance, self-actualisation, and self-confidence may assist in this regard. Regulating our emotions and establishing rapport with customers requires adept relationship skills, empathy and the ability to create positive expectations. 

In my opinion, organisations that encourage the development of EI in certain work settings will assist individuals to be more effective as well as make the workplace more productive.

Martyn Newman is a psychologist specialising in leadership development and emotional intelligence. He is also executive director of RocheMartin, an emotional intelligence consultancy

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