Happier, more productive staff: the importance of EI in the workplace

By Anne Sexton - Last update

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Eileen Woodford outlines the concept of emotional intelligence, or EI, and shows us how this skill impacts our workplaces and our professional lives.

What is so important about emotional intelligence? Does it have relevance has it to you as a person and in your life, as well as in your work and your training and development?

What determines success?

Alfred Binet carried out the first cognitive intelligence test in France in 1905. This became known as the Stanford-Binet test. Since then, many have argued that this test only measured one of our intelligences. The others include emotional, spatial, musical, and artistic. However, it took over 50 years before researchers took emotional intelligence seriously.

Emotional intelligence is how we relate to ourselves and others as well as our environment. Dr Reuven Bar-on defines EI as “an array of non-cognitive capabilities, competencies, and skills that influence one’s ability to succeed in coping with environmental demands and pressures; and it is a factor in determining one’s ability to succeed in life.”

We all want to be successful in our lives and, during our school years, success equalled straight As. The average student often regarded the high achievers in school as more successful than they were. Yet, evidence does not prove this to be the case. Studies have followed children from primary school, through secondary and on into third level education. The researchers checked in with them at various stages to see how they were faring. They looked at their work, home and family lives.

They found was that academic success does not always equal being success. The average student often had a better job and also a happier home life. Clearly, cognitive intelligence or IQ is not the only factor in determining success. There is another intelligence at play – emotional intelligence.

Unpredictable behaviour

Have you ever worked in an environment in which the atmosphere was tense, due to the unpredictable behaviour of one member? Do you remember – or are you experiencing – the stress that such an atmosphere causes? Have you ever noticed the domino effect this has on everyone in the workplace? How can you function properly in an environment like this if you are waiting for a sudden outburst of uncontrolled anger, verbal abuse, blame or criticism, sudden highs or lows in mood?

This is not a healthy way or productive way to work. It is particularly stressful if that person is a supervisor or manager. People function better, and are also more effective if they are in a happy and relaxed environment. They will want to go to work and will work more effectively. In addition, they will be willing to put in that extra effort. So how do you improve behaviour, work atmosphere, and all the connected areas?  The answer is emotional intelligence.

The use of emotional intelligence

Daniel Goleman in his bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ, defines EI as “the capacity for recognising our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships.”

The unpredictable member of the workforce described above did not have this capacity. Therefore his colleagues suffered as a result. He did not have the ability to manage his emotions. Nor did he have the skills to cope with the pressures of everyday life and work.

Emotional intelligence can also be lacking in teams and companies. The good news is that you can improve EI if you identify areas of weakness in the individual, team or company.

In 1990 Peter Salovey and John Meyer defined EI as “the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”

This definition is relevant to behaviour within the work environment. If a workforce can behave in this manner, it would create an emotionally intelligent environment. Consequently, unpredictable behaviour would rarely occur, and management would know how to deal with it effectively.

No amount of training, development, education or team building will have true impact if the team has underdeveloped EI. The introduction and application of EI to corporate environments can reinforce the success of the workforce in general, whatever the activity or size of a company.

Emotional intelligence is necessary at all levels. If senior staff embrace it, as well as apply it in their dealings with peers and employees, EI will filter down through a company.

The BarOn EQ-I®

In the 1980s, psychologist Reuven Bar-on was researching ways to measure emotional intelligence and developed the term Emotional Quotient or EQ.  This lead to the EQ-I® or emotional-quotient inventory®.

The BarOn EQ-I® psychometric assessment is the most validated measure of EI available. It measures EI on five scales. These are then divided into fifteen subscales. The results of the inventory are a good indicator of how effectively we will perform, as individuals and as teams.

Reuven Bar-on’s EQ-I® scales are:

  • Intrapersonal – measures our ability to know and manage our own emotions.
  • Interpersonal – measures our ability to relate to and get along with others.
  • Adaptability – measures how flexible we are & our ability to solve problems.
  • Stress Management – measures how well we tolerate stress and control our impulses.
  • General Mood – measures our happiness and optimism


Emotional intelligence and teams

The areas measured in the BarOn EQ-I® are as applicable to a team as well as an individual. For a team to work effectively, and maximise performance, it needs to be aware of its EI. A team’s emotional intelligence is not down to the EI of individual members. Instead is the measure of the whole group, as it is a synergistic relationship.

Emotional intelligence can be introduced into a company in various ways. It begins from the moment a new employee enters a company. EI deals with how workers relate to each other, how managers manage, how responsive the organisation is to the needs of its people, and many other areas. EI training and development can concentrate on the skills that are relevant, including:

  • Interpersonal relationships
  • Stress tolerance
  • Problem solving
  • Leadership skills


If the areas of weakness are assessed using the BarOn EQ-I® test beforehand, the results of EI training will be reinforced.

As Steven J. Stein says in Make your Workplace Great,  “The benefits of working in an emotionally intelligent environment are enormous, and the impact on all involved is beyond measure.”

Anne Sexton

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