Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace and Why it Matters

The Power skills to be adopted and developed in the workplace for lasting impact

Emotions in the workplace are as complex as they are outside of it – the very nature of being human means that the complexity that comes, will include a vast array of emotions that are impacted by a wide variety of different scenarios in life. 

The display of angry emotions could, in fact, be masking a great sadness. Therefore in and beyond the workplace, having the ability to read these emotions and understand where, how and why they arise is known as emotional intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is a concept that was first coined in 1990, by two professors of psychology John D. Mayer of University of North Hampton and Peter Salovey of Yale. With Mayer defining emotional intelligence further in Harvard Business Review as being “the ability to accurately perceive your own and others’ emotions; to understand the signals that emotions send about relationships; and to manage your own and others’ emotions. It doesn’t necessarily include the qualities (like optimism, initiative, and self-confidence) that some popular definitions ascribe to it.”

From a scientific (rather than a popular) standpoint, emotional intelligence is the ability to accurately perceive your own and others’ emotions

Given that this is how emotional intelligence works, the challenge for business leaders is how they can translate and readily put this knowledge into action in the workplace. 

People, organisational leaders now realising that emotions fundamentally underpin everything that we do. We engage with other people through emotions, in both personal and professional scenarios. We make decisions based on our emotions. We learn because of emotions. Emotions drive our motivation.

The five core traits of emotional intelligence include:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Motivation (defined as “a passion for work that goes beyond money and status”)
  • Empathy for others
  • Social skills, such as proficiency in managing relationships and building networks

But how do these skills play a role in the workplace? Here are five of the ways that Emotional Intelligence can play out in the workplace. 

1️⃣ People listen to each other in meetings

When people are encouraged to and allowed to speak in meetings, and others listen, without constant interruptions, it’s a good sign of emotional intelligence at play. It shows a mutual respect between parties and is more likely to lead to a constructive conclusion in meetings.

One of the core challenges in organisations can be where teams and individuals speak over each other, striving to say the most impactful comment  trying to get the loudest or last word? 

When emotional intelligence is at play instead of ego’s, the result are meetings that operate on respect and care for one another. 

2️⃣ People express themselves authentically & openly

Workplace environments where people feel confident in speaking their minds, exchanging views, and expressing their emotions are those where their demonstration of emotional intelligence has been encouraged. 

In contrast, workplaces where emotions, thoughts, and opinions aren’t able to flow freely, the environment can feel volatile and akin to a ticking time-bomb. For leaders and employees of this type of organisation, the culture is often suffering, attrition high and overall performance challenged. 

The advantages however of having an environment and culture where exchanges are carried out in a tolerant and respectful way. Plays out in the happiness of employees and the overall cohesion of the workplace. 

Emotional intelligence is at the root of authentic and open expression. In environments where this occurs, diversity of thought and opinion is celebrated and in turn individuals share their thoughts and opinions freely. 

3️⃣ People have the freedom to express their creativity

Depending on the nature of your organisation, the value placed in creativity will vary. Yet the determiner of how emotionally intelligent your organisation is will be connected to the levels of  value placed on creativity. Yet it’s important to acknowledge that creative people will always deem their ability to express themselves as important regardless of the value determined by the organisation. 

Ideally, your organisation will have a good blend of creativity and innovation. It’s this combination, powered by emotional intelligence that will enable people to have the freedom and self empowerment to express their creativity in ways that are meaningful to them and the workplace as a whole.

4️⃣ Emotions are supported in the workplace

Almost all employees will at various stages, get upset, have bad moods, argue, or have bad days where perhaps their personal life comes into the office. Other challenges being felt in the workplace aren’t handled as well as they could be. 

Yet it’s how the organisation and its leaders deal with these emotions that says the most about the emotional intelligence at play. 

The questions for business leaders and managers to ask of themselves is, when emotions are playing out how do they respond to these emotions? Is it a case of pretending it’s not happening or, even more problematic and damaging, criticising the outburst of emotions and telling the individual to snap out of it?

Emotional intelligence is clearly an important aspect of thriving in the workplace

Emotional Intelligence in the workplace plays out with compassion, empathy and understanding. Therefore having an awareness of and responding to how other people’s emotional states are expressed, shows a keen understanding that all humans experience strong emotions and that as a workplace it’s vital to support these emotions and the people experiencing them.

5️⃣ Flexibility is encouraged

Flexibility has become key in organisations over the past several years. Perhaps more so following the Covid pandemic. 

Therefore, building flexibility into the culture of the organisation and the ways in which individuals and teams work can be the crucial difference between retaining employees who are happy in their roles and the work they do, or them leaving the organisation for another more flexible one. 

Emotionally intelligent leaders understand that life happens outside of the workplace and as changing demands are placed on employees, it’s essential that the organisation be prepared to work with them, rather than trying to impose strict restrictions on how people go about their work. 

Furthermore, emotionally intelligent organisations don’t have the expectation that all employees will have the same availability or capacity as everyone within the same workplace. These organisations equip their people to do their best work, by working hours and patterns that fit with their additional priorities.

Opportunities to learn and grow with Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is a power skill that can positively impact every employee, their growth, development and contribution to the organisation and their career. 

Whilst it is crucial to understand that it’s not possible for emotional intelligence to be developed  solitary acts such as taking a course or reading a book. It is possible to develop this power skill through these actions, combined with putting them into action. Emotional intelligence must be taken away and practised daily. Through working with different people, trying out different  behaviours, ways of communicating and collaborating with others to find which characteristics of emotional intelligence work best for the individual for it to be effective.

Emotional intelligence is a power skill that can positively impact each employee’s growth regardless of specialty, industry or role

Sage HR recognise the value of emotional intelligence in the workplace and cultivate this amongst their leadership and within their teams. The benefits of this EQ adoption at Sage, translates to a product and service that places the small businesses who use Sage HR front and centre. 

People are at the absolute heart of the Sage HR product and that’s why small businesses move to use our award winning HR Management software. 

Sign up for a free trial of Sage HR today.



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Written By

Jade Taryn Graham

Jade is the founder & CEO of Inspired Talent.co a people & talent consultancy working with the most innovative early stage companies worldwide. Founder & CCO of Inspired Talent Media Ltd and contributing writer for Sage HR where Jade writes about people, leadership, work/life balance and change.