Human emotion is one of the most powerful forces on the planet. Emotions start wars and create peace; spark love and force divorce. While unavoidable, emotions are also indispensable sources of orientation and propel us to take action. But unbridled emotion can make us and those around us to act irrationally.
Emotional intelligence is a relatively new construct, but its impact on how we work will be significant moving forward. The first academic article on emotional intelligence appeared in 1990, but the topic didn’t become mainstream until Daniel Goleman’s 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage one’s personal emotions and the emotions of others. Knowing how you’d feel in a certain situation helps you to gauge how others will feel in a similar environment thus enabling favorable social interactions and evoking favorable reactions from others.
Emotional intelligent people gain social aptitudes such as the ability to resolve conflict, teach others or manage teams.
The business case for emotional intelligence
Rising rates of loneliness, depression, and mental health concerns represent an opportunity for companies and leaders to embrace emotional intelligence in order to reengage people at work and life.
According to Google’s famous Project Aristotle initiative, a high-performing team needs three things: 1) a strong awareness of the importance of social connections or “social sensitivity,” 2) an environment where each person speaks equally, and 3) psychological safety where everyone feels safe to show and employ themselves without fear of negative consequences. To harness these three elements of a successful team, it takes an emotionally intelligent leader.
People feel cared for when these three items are present among a team or organization. People that feel cared for are more loyal, engaged, and productive.
In fact, employees who feel cared for by their organization are…
- 10 times more likely to recommend their company as a great place to work.
- 9 times more likely to stay at their company for three or more years.
- 7 times more likely to feel included at work.
- 4 times less likely to suffer from stress and burnout.
- 2 times as likely to be engaged at work.
1. Deep human needs
The three core human needs of work (and life) are to survive, belong and become. Much like Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs, once humans fulfill the need of food, water and shelter they will then seek to be accepted for who they are, and then finally to learn and grow to become their best selves.
As the world advances, more and more survival needs are being consistently met causing the workforce to turn their attention to the next tier of needs, most immediately being belonging. Emotionally intelligent leaders are capable of extending belonging to their teams.
2. Technology will enhance humanity
The Industrial Revolution required strong workers. The Information Age required knowledgeable workers. The future age of work will require emotionally intelligent workers.
As the world fills with more sophisticated technology such as artificial intelligence and 5G, human skills like compassion and empathy will define the competitive edge of workers and entire organizations.
In addition, as the world becomes more high-tech, there will be a desire and opportunity for more high-touch. As technology advances, it will take on a lot of the work that humans aren’t good at, don’t like, or too dangerous. This will leave us with more time and capacity to show up emotionally for each other.
For example, if artificial intelligence can diagnose diseases with greater accuracy than a doctor, doctors will have more margin to deliver the much needed human elements of empathy and compassion to patients. Or if robots can assemble a customer’s meal more accurately and efficiently than a human, that creates an opportunity for a human to get out from behind the counter to hold the door for a customer or meet them at their car during a rainstorm.
3. Work and life blending
Not only are emotions finding their way into work, but workers want it more. A pervasive myth exists that emotions don’t belong at work, and this often leads us to mistakenly equate professionalism with being stoic or cold.
The boundaries between work and life continue to blur. People are bringing more work home, and more personal life is spilling into work. Try as we might, we cannot flip a switch and leave our pain, joy, sorrow and excitement at the office door. Emotions travel with us.
According to Liz Fossien, co-author of the Wall Street Journal best-seller, No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work, “in the moments when our colleagues drop their glossy professional presentation, we are much more likely to believe what they are telling us. We feel connected to the people around us. We try harder. Perform better. And we are just generally kinder. So it’s about time we learn how to embrace emotion at work.”
4. Evolving employer-employee relationship
In the past, the employer-employee relationship was very transactional. Punch in, punch out and collect a check. But in today’s always-on work culture, the boundaries of the employee-employer relationship are expanding. And considering work is the activity people spend the most time engaged with after sleep, employees are expecting more from the workplace.
More and more employers are leaning into the highly emotional aspects of their employees’ lives. For example, Hilton offers an adoption assistance program that will reimburse team members for qualified adoption expense up to $10,000 per child, with no limit to the number of adoptions. Facebook offers employees up to 20 days of bereavement leave in the event of a family member’s death.
As employees seek more from their employers, moving from employing to empowering will serve employers well.
5. Generation Z demands it
Companies are struggling to adapt to the evolving emotional needs of their workforce. This is especially true among the emerging generations as 18-to-25-year-olds have the highest prevalence of serious mental illness compared to other age groups, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Additionally, Gen Z is the loneliest generation in the workplace with 73 percent reporting sometimes or always feeling alone.
It’s not surprising then that more than any other generation, Gen Z wants their managers to be empathetic, according to The Center for Generational Kinetics’ 2020 study, Solving the Remote Work Challenge Across Generations.
If the youth is the future, and Gen Z are lonely and psychologically stressed then the future of work must be emotional intelligence.