Business Leadership Today

How Emotional Intelligence Affects Employee Engagement and Employee Motivation (and Individual and Organizational Strategies for Improving EQ)


Matt Tenney, Author of Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process

Emotional intelligence (EI), first introduced by psychologists Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer and later popularized by Daniel Goleman, is the ability to recognize, understand, and manage our own emotions and the emotions of others. 

It comprises five key components: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. In the context of the workplace, these emotional intelligence components play a significant role in employee engagement and motivation. 

Employee engagement is the emotional commitment an employee has to the organization and its goals, leading to the use of discretionary effort. Motivation, on the other hand, is the process that initiates, guides, and maintains goal-oriented behaviors.

Emotional intelligence, through its five components, plays a crucial role in enhancing employee engagement and motivation by fostering a positive work environment, promoting understanding and empathy, and facilitating effective leadership.

This article will explore the intricate relationship between emotional intelligence and these two critical aspects of organizational behavior.

The Role of Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

EI is not just a trendy term in organizational behavior; it is a crucial skill that profoundly shapes workplace culture and team dynamics. The significance of EI in the workplace cannot be overstated, as it affects everything from leadership effectiveness and teamwork to customer service and job performance.

Employees with high EI can manage their own emotions and effectively understand and respond to the emotions of their colleagues. This ability is crucial in the workplace, where the interplay of different personalities and stressors can lead to conflict, tension, and toxic work environments. 

By recognizing and understanding these emotional undercurrents, employees can navigate workplace challenges more effectively and maintain productive relationships with their peers.

EI contributes significantly to creating a positive work environment. Leaders with high EI can foster a culture of openness and respect where employees feel valued and heard. 

They can use their empathy and social skills to build strong teams where trust is high, respect is mutual, and relationships are authentic. Such an environment improves employee satisfaction, supports a positive employee experience, enhances productivity, and reduces turnover.

Employees with high EI are better equipped to handle stress, adapt to change, and resolve conflicts. They can also better understand and respond to their customers’ needs, leading to improved customer satisfaction.

Emotional Intelligence and Employee Engagement

A high level of EI allows individuals to effectively manage their emotions, leading to less stress and more positive interactions in the workplace. These positive interactions can increase employee engagement by helping employees feel a deeper connection to their peers and feel more connected and committed to their organization. 

For instance, an employee with high EI can handle stress better. This enables them to remain focused and committed to their roles and the organization’s goals, even in challenging situations. This can result in higher engagement. 

Employees with high EI can empathize with their colleagues’ emotions, leading to more effective teamwork and a better work environment, which can also increase engagement. 

Leaders with high EI can create an environment that fosters employee engagement. They can understand and manage their own emotions and those of their team, leading to a more positive work environment. They can also use their social skills to build strong relationships with their employees, making them feel valued and engaged.

Emotional Intelligence and Employee Motivation

Employee motivation is a vital aspect of a company’s success. It is the energy, commitment, and creativity that employees put into their work. Many factors contribute to employee motivation, including their internal and external environment. 

EI plays a critical role in employee motivation. Leaders with high EI better understand their emotions and their team’s emotions. They can recognize when a team member is feeling stressed or disengaged and can take appropriate action to help them. 

For instance, a leader with a high EI can offer support, encouragement, and resources to help team members improve their skills and stay motivated, even during challenging times. 

Research has shown that employees with high EI tend to be more self-motivated and better equipped to manage their emotions. This, in turn, enables them to stay focused on their goals and perform better in their job roles.

The Interplay between Emotional Intelligence, Employee Engagement, and Motivation

Employee engagement, motivation, and EI are interconnected concepts. EI is at the heart of this interplay. 

High EI can significantly impact an individual’s level of engagement and motivation at work. Employees with high EI can better manage workplace stress, leading to higher engagement. A leader with high EI can effectively motivate their team, resulting in increased team motivation. 

Conversely, high levels of employee engagement and motivation can also improve EI. When employees are engaged and motivated, they are more invested in their work and relationships in the workplace, which can lead to greater emotional awareness and understanding.

Emotionally intelligent leaders are better able to guide teams through challenging circumstances and high-stress situations. 

Tight project deadlines, for example, can be highly stressful for teams. Having an emotionally intelligent team leader can mitigate the impacts of this stress and manage it through clear communication, ongoing support, and recognition of the team’s efforts. 

Despite the challenging circumstances, these actions help maintain the team’s engagement and motivation levels. A highly engaged and motivated employee is likely to be more attuned to the emotional climate of the workplace and better able to navigate workplace relationships and challenges, demonstrating high EI.

Strategies to Enhance Emotional Intelligence

Enhancing EI is not a one-time effort but a continuous process of learning and growth. Both individuals and organizations can adopt strategies and good habits to improve EI, which, in turn, can boost employee engagement and motivation.

Individual Strategies

1. Self-awareness: Individuals can enhance self-awareness by practicing mindfulness and reflection. This involves taking time each day to reflect on one’s emotions and how they influence one’s actions.

2. Self-regulation: Individuals can improve their ability to manage their emotions by developing coping strategies for stress, such as deep breathing, meditation, or physical exercise.

3. Motivation: Setting personal goals and seeking feedback can help individuals stay motivated. Recognizing and celebrating small wins can also boost motivation.

4. Empathy: Active listening and trying to understand others’ perspectives can enhance empathy. Reading books or watching movies that explore complex emotions can also be beneficial.

5. Social Skills: Individuals can improve their social skills by seeking opportunities for social interaction and collaboration. They can also benefit from training in conflict resolution and communication skills.

Organizational Strategies

1. Training and Development: Organizations can offer training programs focused on developing EI. This could include workshops, coaching, or online courses.

2. Leadership Example: Leaders play a crucial role in setting the emotional tone of the workplace. Leaders who demonstrate high EI can inspire their employees to do the same.

3. Feedback Mechanisms: Regular feedback can help employees become more aware of their emotions and how they impact others. This could be through performance reviews or more informal feedback mechanisms.

4. Workplace Culture: Organizations can foster a culture that values EI. This might involve recognizing and rewarding EI competencies or incorporating EI into hiring and promotion decisions.

Improving EI requires concerted efforts at both the individual and organizational levels. By adopting these strategies, individuals and organizations can improve their EI, increasing employee engagement and motivation.

Matt Tenney has been working to help organizations develop leaders who improve employee engagement and performance since 2012. He is the author of three leadership books, including the groundbreaking, highly acclaimed book Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process.

Matt’s ideas have been featured in major media outlets and his clients include numerous national associations and Fortune 500 companies.

He is often invited to deliver keynote speeches at conferences and leadership meetings, and is known for delivering valuable, actionable insights in a way that is memorable and deeply inspiring.

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