The Benefits of Empathy and Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

Emotional intelligence and empathy in the workplace have become a hot topic in recent years, with most workplaces ditching the outdated idea that employees and employers getting personal only serves to create an unproductive and unprofessional workplace. In reality, the opposite is true - an emotionally connected workforce can be far more engaged and productive.

Emotional intelligence and empathy make it much easier for employees to improve their relationships with coworkers and create a healthier, happier workplace. Becoming attuned to the needs and wants of others has been shown to improve emotional well-being, making it easy to foster relationships built on trust and mutual understanding, which can positively affect how employees and employers work together.

According to the 2019 State of Workplace Empathy, 82% of employees would consider leaving their current job for a more empathetic organization. Despite this, many business owners and managers don’t truly understand the value or importance of empathy and emotional intelligence in the workplace. In order for modern businesses to retain talent, it’s imperative that management works to understand the many benefits of emotional intelligence and how leaders can foster a more socially cohesive workplace.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is the ability of an individual to recognize and understand their own emotions as well as the emotions of those around them. Different levels of emotional intelligence  play a major role in solving problems, making decisions, and communicating with people - the higher your emotional intelligence, the more likely you are to successfully navigate decisions, problems, and interactions.

Emotional intelligence (sometimes referred to as EQ or emotional quotient) is now closely linked to IQ, with experts generally agreeing that emotional intelligence can actually be a more important factor in determining success. Many tend to agree that while those with a high IQ can be good leaders, the most effective ones are intelligent people with a high EQ. It is becoming an increasingly important trait in the workplace, enabling employees to successfully interact with colleagues, better manage stress and anxiety, navigate conflicts, and more. On the management side, the benefits of high emotional intelligence are obvious - you are more likely to detect issues and can more easily solve problems brought to you by employees. 

Why is emotional intelligence important in the workplace?

The 2019 State of Workplace Empathy revealed that 72% of CEOs surveyed said that they believed the state of empathy in the workplace needs to evolve. Why is this? People with a high EQ have greater empathy, meaning that they are better equipped to understand and respond to the emotions of the people around them. This is extremely important in the workplace, and makes it easier to navigate the often complex relationships developed at work.

People with a high EQ and empathy can see situations from perspectives other than their own, letting them avoid or settle conflicts and acknowledge opinions and viewpoints that they don’t necessarily agree with, leading to better outcomes and less conflict. 

The opposite is also true, as those with high emotional intelligence and empathy are able to listen and respond to constructive criticism in a more positive manner. Emotional intelligence has also been shown to improve the ability of employees to make important decisions and keep cool under pressure, resolve conflicts, and avoid common toxic workplace traits like not taking responsibility for one's actions or using passive aggressive communication styles.

How businesses can increase employee emotional intelligence

With the many advantages of emotional intelligence and empathy in the workplace made clear, you can begin to work to increase your own EQ, as well as that of your employees and colleagues. Since emotional intelligence is often gauged in different ways (empathy, relationship management, self-awareness, self-regulation, and social awareness), working to improve emotional intelligence is a matter of improving these qualities.

Becoming more self-aware is a very important part of improving emotional intelligence - after all, how can you understand the emotions of others if you can’t understand your own? Try to understand your emotional strengths and weaknesses, and work on improving them - if you often find yourself becoming impatient, actively try to change that. If you don’t deal well with stress, try to understand why so you can minimize the effect it has on your life.

Cultivating self-regulation skills can help you adapt to the ever-changing conditions and situations in the workplace. You can do this by relieving workplace stress in healthier ways, making calm and rational decisions rather than emotional ones, and responding to situations in a productive manner rather than losing your cool.

Improving your social awareness skills is another important step towards improving EQ. In order to achieve higher emotional intelligence, it’s critical that you’re able to recognize the emotions experienced by others and understand how to appropriately respond to them. The most effective workplace leaders are often those with high social skills, who actively listen to their colleagues, lend insightful feedback when appropriate, take notice of nonverbal cues, and avoid toxic workplace behaviors like gossip and conflict.

Becoming more empathetic is another great way to improve emotional intelligence. Empathy allows people to see things from a perspective other than their own, letting them momentarily step into another person’s shoes to better understand their reactions, opinions, and feelings. Becoming more empathetic is a matter of trying harder to see things from the perspective of others, especially in situations where you disagree or don’t understand certain decisions or points of view. Be sure to let your colleagues have a voice, even when their ideas don’t necessarily align with yours, and be willing to compromise when the situation calls for it. Doing so allows you to find a middle ground with colleagues, making it easier to understand different perspectives so you can begin building stronger workplace relationships.

Finally, employers and managers can improve their emotional intelligence by simply supporting the well-being of their employees. This can be as simple as remembering to be human when dealing with employees - remember that they have families, hobbies, and lives outside of the workplace, and appreciate opportunities to further these things or even chat about them. You can also do things like offer your employees ways to improve their own skills, allow them to have a say in their own schedules, and create opportunities for your team members to bond over non-work activities.

Those who are more in tune with their own emotional landscape are more likely to have a higher EQ. Investing in mindfulness and mental health services for your employees will naturally raise their individual EQ. Encouraging team activities, such as weekly social Zoom calls or, when appropriate, regular social events will help your employees get to know each other on a more personal level. 

Another method to increase team EQ is to encourage, not discourage personal conversations between employees. If they’re taking thirty minutes to discuss personal issues, don’t look at it as time stolen from the company - look at it as time spent building the company’s EQ. Obviously, if it goes on too long or too often it is a problem, but your employees shouldn’t need to feel like they have to wait until the boss is out of the room to have a conversation that does not involve work. 

Emotional intelligence is rightfully becoming more important in the modern workplace, allowing managers and employees alike to better understand the people around them, make better informed decisions, and avoid workplace conflict. Improving emotional intelligence is easy, and can create a much happier, healthier workplace that gives your employees a reason to stick around. All it takes for you and your team to become more self- and socially-aware, empathetic and human is patience, persistence, and a willingness to improve.

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