Why building an emotionally intelligent workforce should be a business priority post-COVID

emotional intelligence

In the post-COVID work climate, soft skills such as emotional intelligence are more in-demand than ever before. Workforces with high EQ are more agile and much better placed for business survival. Corporate psychologist and CEO and co-founder of Shortlyster, Rudy Crous, discusses the importance of emotional intelligence in the workplace and how employers can train for it in existing staff, writes Rudy Crous, CEO and Co-Founder of Shortlyster.

At the beginning of 2020, ‘emotional intelligence’ was labelled by LinkedIn as one of the top five most in-demand soft skills for employers. With the rise of Artificial Intelligence and smart technology, businesses are recognising they need their staff to excel at ‘soft skills’, or as I like to call them essential skills, for jobs of the future. Fast forward to the second half of the year and a lot of things have changed for workplaces due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the demand for essential skills has only been reinforced. Workplaces went from office-bound jobs to remote working almost instantaneously. With this global shift in the way work is done, essential skills such as high emotional intelligence (EQ), which include concepts like flexibility, adaptability, creativity and resilience, are now more important than ever as teams navigate uncharted waters.

Emotional Intelligence is a combination of emotional and social skills that influence a person’s overall capability to cope effectively with the demands and pressures of work and life. Employees with high EQ have the ability to perceive, express, understand, and regulate their emotions to build better, more healthy respectful relationships that will then help achieve business goals. Workforces with these abilities are better placed for success for a number of reasons: greater resilience and mental wellbeing, stronger team communication and cohesion, higher self-regard and assertiveness, greater employee loyalty, lower employee turnover, and better problem-solving abilities.

The business risks of low EQ and how to spot them
Some of the biggest misconceptions of EQ are that it means being ‘emotional’, ‘touchy-feely’ and nice all the time. In reality, the more emotionally intelligent someone is, the more they understand how to channel their emotions for a positive result. It’s about being smart with your emotions. People with high EQ know how to get the best out of themselves, their relationships and others. They understand the meaning of their own feelings, how their emotions influence their behaviour, how others are feeling, and how to best support them.

Common red flags for employees with low EQ are those who generally don’t take responsibility for their own feelings, but blame others for them, they often let things build up and then blow up, and they often overreact to life’s minor events and struggle to remain in emotional control. They often lack empathy and compassion, tend not to consider others’ feelings before acting, and generally lack self-awareness of their own emotions and the emotions of others around them. This can lead to a number of bad outcomes for workplaces and businesses, including:

Out of touch: If your business seems to be unable to consistently develop strong, positive client/customer relationships there could be an emotional connection (EQ) problem. Your teams have to be able to relate to customers and show empathy in resolving their issues. If there is unwillingness to understand a client’s goals and needs this can result in unhappy clients and lost business opportunities.

Biased decision making: Has your team come with presumed knowledge of what clients want without first seeking feedback from your customer? Poor decision making will occur if you make assumptions on what you think a client should have rather than exploring and truly understanding what a client needs and problem solve on how to support this.

Low productivity: People with lower EQ are often unable to deal appropriately with conflict and differing values; they are derailed by others’ negative or ‘hot’ emotions. These individuals struggle to manage themselves and are unable to help others reclaim their rationality during difficult exchanges. They are often unable to solve problems or manage conflict efficiently. Consequently, they are often less productive at work and might also derail others in the team.

Toxic culture: Cultivating an environment where everyone respects and trusts one another creates a culture of support and mutual benefit. This type of positive environment is enjoyable and rewarding for those who work together. Employees and leaders with low EQ will struggle to build a positive and collaborative culture. They tend to foster a blame culture and make feedback overly personal by attacking others and pointing fingers. Unfortunately, this can lead to higher employee turnover and loss of good talent.

Inability to cope with changing conditions: In the current climate, workplaces have seen a lot of change. Those with low EQ will struggle more with change, not because of technical knowledge gaps, but because of an inability to manage stress and a lack of understanding of how to channel their skills in new ways.

Poor interpersonal relationships: With the shift to remote working, many workforces are working exclusively from home. An emotionally intelligent workforce will find ways to stay connected and work to support each other’s well-being through these challenging times.  Whereas a workforce with low EQ will fail to connect and check-in with each other, they will become isolated and struggle to ask for support. Personal relationships will decline and the quality of work and decision making will suffer.

How to improve EQ in your workforce
Whether or not your workforce is presenting some of the above signs of low EQ, it is important to proactively consider how you can strengthen EQ in your workforce for better business success. As opposed to IQ, EQ can be trained and improved. Similarly, it can be ‘lost’ if not continuously developed. Training EQ  begins with education around what emotional intelligence is and understanding your own emotions and default behaviours. It includes education on how an emotionally intelligent person would evaluate and act in different work situations. In particular, there are three key areas employers can focus on for developing EQ. These are:

  1. Learning how to give and receive feedback
  2. Recognising the symptoms of stress in others and in themselves and identifying default behaviours to stress
  3. Being able to identify and label the kinds of emotions and what triggers them

Role-playing different scenarios with feedback can provide employees with best practice techniques to build greater EQ. Ask employees to reflect on how they managed previous situations and see if they can identify what they could have done better. Ideally, these practice sessions will have an experienced coach to help guide discussion as you need to ensure that individuals feel supported and are in a safe environment to share information and be honest about themselves.

In addition to training sessions, employers should also consider implementing a number of supporting processes in the workplace to foster and reward higher EQ. These include:

  1. Implementing systems and processes that enable better collaboration and connectedness between people
  2. Removing barriers that break down or threaten the EQ of your business and teams
  3. Acknowledging the importance of EQ in your business and making training part of every employee’s development
  4. Recognising and rewarding behaviours that display high EQ
  5. Implementing and monitoring company values that speak to high EQ behaviours
  6. Building a culture grounded in trust, honesty and openness and running away as far as you can from a blame culture
  7. For hiring – using assessment tools that evaluate candidate EQ

Finally, leading by example is key. Business leaders need to demonstrate EQ in their own behaviour and decisions, providing a benchmark for the ideal workplace behaviour and communications.

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