Emotional Intelligence at Work: Learn from Your Emotions

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is a hot topic now, and for a good reason. Stress and burnout are rampant, driven by COVID-related changes, polarizing politics, and other stressors. Leaders and managers with strong EQ are better equipped to help team members deal with stress and burnout, which is vital for productivity and employee retention. 

Consider this: Limeade, a provider of employee wellbeing solutions, conducted a survey in 2021, finding that most people who left jobs during the Great Resignation were feeling burnt out and went to companies that invest in employee well-being.

However, EQ isn’t just for periods of significant stress. It’s a skill set that every leader, manager, and employee should master. Emotional intelligence will pave the way to better interpersonal relationships, supporting a more positive and collaborative work culture. Managers need strong EQ to help them identify when their team members are experiencing burnout, stress, or other mental wellness challenges and maintain their own mental wellness.

What is Emotional intelligence(EQ)?

Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and understand your own emotions and the emotions of others. Daniel Goleman, an early pioneer of EQ, says that EQ starts with self-awareness, or paying attention to how you react emotionally to different situations (1996). Self-awareness includes being aware of your strengths, weaknesses, and values, which shape how others perceive you. It can help you convey confidence and also help you handle criticism and input in constructive ways.

Once you are self-aware, you can begin developing other EQ skills that promote better performance and greater collaboration at work. These include:

●  Social skills, which help you build relationships and influence others.

●  Empathy, or insight into other people’s feelings, helps you avoid misunderstandings and communicate effectively across differences in background (culture, values, etc.).

●  Self-management is the practice of directing your feelings. It can help you change a bad mood, avoid overreacting and be more objective. It can also help you channel positive feelings like passion.

●  Motivation is the ability to harness emotions to keep moving forward toward goals. It also refers to the ability to kindle enthusiasm in others.

What Does Emotional intelligence Look Like in Practice?

A manager handles various practical functions and tasks, from scheduling employees to controlling costs. A manager with high EQ can do much more, such as using social skills to read energy or mood in an individual or a meeting. 

They listen well and use empathy to help their staff work through issues, possibly including personal issues. They self-manage to avoid losing their temper and making irrational choices. They motivate themselves and their team, encouraging strengths and shoring up weaknesses.

In Remote Work: Redesign Processes, Practices and Strategies to Engage a Remote Workforce, my coauthor Kim Shepherd and I encourage managers to ask team members what they want and need from a leader (2021). The answers we’ve received through the years all point to strong EQ and include inspiration, compassion, openness, and courage.

What Employees Need Today

Taryn McKenzie, EVP of Sales and Marketing at TalentSmart EQ, believes that the current environment makes emotional intelligence more important than ever (2022). She says that what employees really need is:

●  To know that employers care – ask about life outside of work (family, hobbies, etc.), and make a stronger connection.

●  To feel empowered — provide people with tasks that challenge them, then step back and give them full rein.

●  To feel appreciated — recognition and rewards are important and range from acknowledging an individual’s success in a team meeting to providing tangible rewards like gift cards.

I would add that, in the new normal (and particularly if your organization is working in a hybrid or remote model), it’s essential for leaders to provide:

●  Focus on outcomes rather than time spent.

●  Empower employees to work the way that best suits them.

To do either one, you may need to leverage EQ to let go of your own need to control things and motivate employees. Remember that people are more susceptible to stress and burnout these days, so you should put your empathy to work to keep a caring eye on your team.

Additional Emotional intelligence Practices

There is much more to explore about emotional intelligence than will fit in this space. However, here are a few practices that I find useful at work:

Be vulnerable. Vulnerability is consciously choosing to wear certain emotions on your sleeve. Being vulnerable in a deliberate, constructive way supports emotional intelligence because you make a point of understanding and managing your feelings as you interact with others. Share stories of your failures with your team, including how you felt and what you learned from them. Vulnerability encourages authenticity and genuine connection

Be direct and clear. Writing on Textio.com, Cassie Sanchez says that, in times of stress, a best practice in communication is to stick to the basics: Be authentic, transparent, and human (2020). For example, a low-EQ  email to the team might say, “While the current situation is challenging, we are implementing strategies to deal with it.” Instead, keep it real: “We’re all frustrated with the way things are, but if we support one another, we’ll get through it one step at a time.”

Own your shortcomings. This is a humbling act and can be very difficult. However, you can see it as an opportunity to understand yourself better with strong emotional intelligence. It also sets you up to identify people whose skills complement your own, with whom you should have successful collaborations. The EQ comes in when you work past your fear of experiencing negative emotions, like feelings of inadequacy or embarrassment.

Psychologists know that emotions strongly influence cognition, including perception, attention, learning, problem-solving, memory, and reasoning — the influence can be positive or negative (Tyng et al., 2017). EQ will help you be aware of your emotions and how they impact your intellectual processes and enable you to be more effective in your professional and personal life.


Dyer, C and Shepherd, K (2021) Remote Work: Redesign processes, practices and strategies to engage a remote workforce. Kogan Page, London.

Goleman, D (1996) Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. Bloomsbury Publishing, London

Limeade (2021) The great resignation update: Limeade employee care report. Available from: https://www.limeade.com/resources/resource-center/limeade-employee-care-report-the-great-resignation-update [Last accessed March 16, 2022]

McKenzie, T (2022) The 3 things your employees need right now. TalentSmartEQ, March 14. Available from: https://www.talentsmarteq.com/blog/employee-engagement-3-things-you-need-to-incorporate-now [Last accessed March 16, 2022]

Sanchez, C (2020) Internal communications planning: Best practices in critical times. Available from: https://textio.com/blog/internal-communications-planning-best-practices-in-critical-times/29098411142 [Last accessed March 16, 2022]

Tyng, C M; Amin, H U; Saad, M N M; & Malik; A S (2017) The influences of emotion on learning and memory. Frontiers in Psychology, August 24. Available from: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01454/full [Last accessed March 16, 2022]