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The Magic of Emotional Intelligence

I recently had the pleasure of addressing an audience of HR Managers and although I found it a challenge to say everything I wanted to in 30 minutes, I decided to focus on the importance of emotional intelligence and its impact on staff engagement.

Whilst preparing I went through some of my notes from University, because my studies had included 'Strategic Human Resource Management' and I knew that if I was going to be talking to experts, I couldn't just turn up with some wishy-washy stories about being nice to each other.

The study module on 'Building Employee Engagement' (OU 2009) included the following definition (of engagement): "A set of positive attitudes and behaviours, enabling high job performance of a kind which is in tune with the organization's mission" John Storey et al - 2009

So far so good.

If you are familiar with this subject you will know that there is a vast amount of literature and statistics available, including fascinating insights from a number of recruitment and consulting companies.

What is remarkable however, is that even though we all know what it is, and that staff engagement can make or break a business, according to Gallup, the percentage of engaged staff worldwide has barely moved since the year 2000!

What's going wrong?

Changes to the way we communicate, work pressure, cultural and generational differences - all of these are contributing factors to the lack of motivation that many staff feel.

Moreover, if we go back almost 100 years to when Edward Lee Thorndyke first presented his concept that we have three types of intelligence - abstract, mechanical and social - we understand that our 'social' or 'emotional' intelligence is falling victim to our love of technology for which we require a greater dose of mechanical intelligence.

But we are still human beings, and we still have feelings, and we've all had days when we have gone home after work and just wanted to crawl into a hole, or days when something amazing has happened and we wanted to jump for joy

We're just not very good at admitting to work colleagues that we're tired or fed up, because as professionals we're expected to get on with the job without complaint, or we don't want to share our fantastic news with someone because they may think we have a problem with our ego - and such emotions have no place at work, or ... ?

Could Emotional Intelligence be the Answer?


Because emotional intelligence in the work place has a lot to do with how you treat yourself and others. As a manager, it's about finding out how you can create an environment in which your staff will thrive - regardless of whether you're working on the production line of a car manufacturer or you're a retailer for soft furnishings.

So unless you enjoy working with people who are disengaged, here are ten ways that you can improve staff engagement at little or no (financial) cost - but they do require you to take ACTION and make a few changes.

1. The Job Vacancy Notice

Your psychological contract with your future colleague begins the very second that they read your vacancy notice. Don't simply provide a list of tasks and responsibilities. Before you issue any vacancies think about the characteristics of the person you would like to employ, as well as the purpose and expected outcomes of the job, and include them in the notice.

For example, if you were advertising for an accountant, would you want someone who was 'meticulous and level-headed' or 'creative and friendly'? Are they going to have to hit pre-determined sales targets, and why is the position important?

2. The Recruitment Process

Don't be one of those organizations or companies that don't bother to keep applicants up to date with your recruitment process. In an age where an Excel spreadsheet and Outlook can produce a message in seconds, there are no excuses. Acknowledge the receipt of an application and give a date when the applicant might expect to hear from you, as well as when you plan to hold interviews. And tell them if they didn't get the job as soon as the decision has been made!

3. The First Day of Work

This may sound obvious, but make sure that your new colleague has a desk, a chair and a computer - and that someone is there to help them set up their email account immediately (not later that afternoon or tomorrow just because everyone is busy). You're expecting them to do their best for you aren't you, so do your best for them.

4. Manage Expectations

Arrange to meet with your new team member as soon as they have settled in (on their first day). If you're going to be away, ensure that someone else can do it for you, and catch up with them as soon as you return.

If you have a staff handbook (policies and rules etc.) give it to them personally and go through what you consider to be the most important aspects of their work. Again, it isn't enough to purely talk about tasks and responsibilities; what outcomes do you expect? How will your colleague know that they are doing a good job? What do you expect from them?

5. Frequent Feedback is Fabulous

Ask your team member what they need from you! Everyone is unique, and whilst one person will be happy to get on with their job with no additional input from you, another person may want to check in with you on a daily basis. This has nothing to do with their capacity to do the job - this has to do with how YOU can create an environment in which your colleagues give their best.

6. Be Open Minded

It is human nature to judge someone within 30 seconds of meeting them. Be aware of any judgements you are making based upon someone's nationality or other cultural differences.

7. Help Your Team to be a Team

A great way to start the week is by spending just a few minutes together - go around the room and ask everyone to report on what went well last week, and then their expected outcomes for the coming days. This ensures that everyone gets their 'say' and allows them to actively contribute.

8. Other Teambuilding

Many managers shy away from this because they envision expensive events involving the entire staff - which means that no work will get done. But teambuilding could be as simple as taking it in turns to bake (or buy) something tasty for a coffee morning on a Friday. Just remember to NOT make your teambuilding competitive because in the long run you will undo all your hard work.

9. Manage Change with Your Head and Your Heart

Every time someone leaves or joins the team, every time you are on holiday or a new project starts or finishes, every time someone is promoted or rewarded in some way, in fact any time that the routine is interrupted, the dynamics in your team will change.

Understand that people deal with change at different speeds, and do everything you can to make things easy for your colleagues by sharing relevant information with them on a regular basis. If you can't tell them something because confidentiality is involved, tell them why - never lie!

10. Look After Yourself

I don't want to be harsh, but if you don't enjoy managing people then find another job! Being a manager brings with it huge responsibility for the wellbeing of others, and as the saying goes, 'an employee never leaves a company, they always leave a bad manager'.

Be honest with yourself about what it is you love to do, because if your engagement and motivation fails, your team won't be far behind you.

If you want to know more ...

From the feedback I received after the conference it's clear that emotional intelligence and staff engagement are sticky subjects, especially if you are working in a company or organization where your days are filled with hierarchy and bureaucracy.

That's why I'm really excited about a new programme that I'm pulling together for HR managers that is going to make taking action really easy. If you would like to know more about it please just send me a message here.

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