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5 Ways HR Can Improve Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

Possessing strong emotional intelligence skills can have a significant impact on job performance, work relationships, and overall success.

Anna Coucke

by Anna Coucke - June 7th, 2023


Do you know what the most valuable skill in the workplace is? 90% of high performers possess it, and it's not time management, creativity, or leadership… it's emotional intelligence. Since this skill is crucial to personal and organizational success, any thriving professional likely has well-developed emotional intelligence skills, even if they don't know it. 

Let's take a closer look at what exactly it means to have good emotional intelligence and delve into how you can develop and improve the emotional intelligence skills of both yourself and your employees.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence, also known as emotional quotient (EQ), is the ability to understand and manage the emotions of yourself and others. Emotional intelligence allows you to navigate social situations, build relationships, and make decisions while being mindful and empathetic.

How is emotional intelligence measured exactly? It's a complicated concept, but there are a few ways of examining each individual's emotional intelligence level. 

David Goleman's theory, known as the Mixed Model, states that emotional intelligence consists of five components.

  1. Self-awareness: recognizing and understanding one's own emotions, as well as how they impact thoughts, behaviors, and interactions with others.

  2. Self-regulation: managing one's own emotions, thoughts, and behaviors positively and productively – even in challenging situations.

  3. Motivation: motivating yourself towards personal fulfillment.

  4. Empathy: understanding and empathizing with the emotions, needs, and perspectives of others.

  5. People Skills: building and maintaining healthy relationships with others through effective communication, conflict resolution, and teamwork.

At its core, emotional intelligence encompasses a range of skills and competencies related to understanding and responding to the emotions of yourself and others. Low emotional intelligence often results in destructive behaviors such as poor communication, insensitivity, impulsivity, and lack of motivation. The good news is that emotional intelligence can be developed and improved through practice and training.

Why is emotional intelligence important in the workplace?

Strong emotional intelligence skills can significantly impact job performance, work relationships, and overall success. There is a reason possessing this one skill is so impactful – it is helpful in numerous aspects of the workplace, including:

  • Better communication: Individuals with high emotional intelligence can better understand and communicate with their colleagues, clients, and customers. They can effectively express their ideas and listen to others, leading to more effective collaboration and teamwork.

  • Improved leadership: Leaders with high emotional intelligence are better equipped to motivate and inspire their team, manage conflicts, and build relationships. They are more aware of their own emotions and those of others, which can help them make better decisions and respond more effectively to challenges and conflicts that may arise.

  • Increased productivity: Employees with high emotional intelligence tend to be more focused, resilient, and adaptable. They can manage stress and cope with change more effectively, which can result in performance and productivity.

  • Better customer service: Employees with high emotional intelligence are more empathetic and able to understand and respond to the needs and emotions of customers, which can lead to improved customer satisfaction and loyalty.

  • Positive work environment: A workplace with a culture of high emotional intelligence tends to be more positive, supportive, and respectful. This can mean better morale, reduced stress, and improved job satisfaction.

5 Ways HR Can Improve Emotional Intelligence In the Workplace

Emotional intelligence is complex, and being open to improving it requires a degree of emotional intelligence in itself. Regardless, there are multiple ways that HR pros can focus on improving emotional intelligence skills among employees, no matter their emotional intelligence level.

Lead by example

Before focusing on resources and training, HR leaders should model high emotional intelligence by being aware of their emotions, communicating effectively, and demonstrating empathy and respect for their employees. This can set the tone for the entire organization and encourage employees to follow suit.

Provide resources for stress management 

Stress can negatively impact emotional intelligence, so it's important to provide resources and support to help employees manage it. This includes wellness programs, meditation and yoga sessions, and access to mental health resources such as counseling or therapy. Additionally, encouraging employees to take mental health days where they completely disconnect from work can help reduce stress and burnout.

Provide training and development opportunities

Offer workshops or training sessions focused on emotional intelligence skills such as self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, and effective communication. These programs can help employees improve their understanding of their own emotions as well as those of their colleagues and clients. 

Encourage self-reflection 

Encourage employees to take time to reflect on their own emotions, strengths, and weaknesses. Coaching, frequent feedback, mentoring, and providing tools such as personal development plans, self-assessments, and journaling prompts can accomplish this.

Foster a supportive workplace culture 

Focus on creating a workplace culture that values emotional intelligence and encourages open communication, respect, and empathy. Encourage employees to listen, seek feedback, and support their colleagues actively. 

Giving employees the autonomy to make requests establishes support and trust and helps them become more self-sufficient and reflective of their own needs. HR pros should communicate frequently, try to zero in on disengaged, frustrated, or distant individuals, and figure out what support they require. 

Measuring progress on workplace emotional intelligence

While there isn't necessarily an analytical way to measure improvement in emotional intelligence due to its complexity and subjectivity, a few aspects can be recognized and measured that signal an improvement in emotional intelligence.


HR can observe and reflect on employee behavior, communication, and interactions with others to assess progress in emotional intelligence development. Regular check-ins, performance reviews, surveys, or informal feedback can accomplish this. When measuring an employee's level of emotional intelligence, keep the following in mind to help guide you when observing each of the five components of emotional intelligence:

  1. Self-awareness: Observe how an individual responds to their own emotions. Do they acknowledge and understand their emotions, or do they seem to ignore or suppress them?

  2. Self-regulation: Observe how an individual controls their emotions and behaviors. Do they manage their emotions in a healthy and productive way, or do they lash out, trauma dump, or become overwhelmed easily?

  3. Motivation: Observe how an individual sets and pursues goals. Do they demonstrate drive and persistence, even in the face of obstacles or setbacks, or do they become angry or discouraged?

  4. Empathy: Observe how an individual responds to others' emotional cues, such as facial expressions or tone of voice. Do they seem to understand and connect with others' emotions, or react inappropriately to or even ignore them?

  5. People skills: Observe how an individual interacts with others. Do they communicate effectively, show respect and empathy, and build positive relationships, or do their relationships tend to be more one-sided or conflicted?

Tracking performance

Annual or biannual performance reviews that solicit feedback from colleagues, managers, and direct reports help to gain a more comprehensive understanding of an employee's emotional intelligence. This can help identify specific areas for improvement and track progress over time.

Organizations can also use self-assessment tools to measure employees' emotional intelligence and track changes over time. These assessments can provide employees with insights into their engagement and job satisfaction, along with strengths and areas for improvement.

In addition to setting goals around an employee's role to be reflected in performance reviews, you can set specific and achievable goals related to specific emotional intelligence competencies, such as active listening, conflict resolution, feedback reception, and teamwork. 

Final thoughts

Emotional intelligence is a complex concept that can be difficult to measure consistently, but having a workforce that possesses a high degree of emotional intelligence is vital to having a successful, growth-focused company. 

By recognizing and addressing the importance of the emotional intelligence of yourself and your employees, you can foster a workplace of understanding, empathy, and teamwork – which also equals a more productive, innovative, and happy one.

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