In today’s hypercompetitive world, it is more important than ever to have highly engaged, committed workers. Employees with high job satisfaction and organisational commitment have higher job performance. Satisfied people are more productive. Moreover, employees with high job satisfaction and organisational commitment have lower turnover intentions. This can keep costly turnover down and help organisations retain knowledgeable, well-trained, and experienced staff.
People with high job satisfaction also have better physical and mental health, and this is good for both the employees and the company, keeping down absenteeism and reducing health insurance costs.
The multiple benefits of job satisfaction raise the question: What leads to satisfied employees? While a variety of personality traits are related to job satisfaction, our research provides compelling evidence that emotional intelligence is the most important personality predictor of job satisfaction, organisational commitment, and turnover intentions. Organisations that recruit emotionally intelligent employees will have an advantage over the competition. Moreover, because emotional competencies and skills can be developed, our research suggests practical ways that organisations can use to increase their existing employees’ job satisfaction, commitment, and productivity.
What is emotional intelligence?
We all know people who intuitively understand the feelings of those around them. Likewise, we have certainly encountered those who have trouble understanding our feelings even when we directly tell them what we are thinking and feeling. The former have high emotional intelligence, the ability to recognise and understand their own and others’ emotions, while the latter are low on this crucial life skill. We also know people who can keep control of their emotions during crises, when dealing with difficult people, and when encountering an assortment of problems and frustrations. These people are high on the emotion regulation aspects of emotional intelligence. In contrast, you have probably also encountered people who “fly off the handle” and lose their temper, their composure, or their confidence at the slightest provocation or setback. Sadly, these people are low on the ability to regulate their emotions.
There are different ways of assessing emotional intelligence, some with objective items, just like IQ tests do. Other researchers use self-report measures or self-report mixed emotional competencies scales, and they may regard emotional intelligence as a type of personality trait or as a set of emotion-related competencies and skills.
Researchers have spent decades trying to find out what motivates employees and keeps them happy and satisfied. They have explored a wide variety of personality traits, and made various claims as to which ones are most important.
Personality traits are often grouped into five major dimensions, called the Big Five:
- conscientiousness (a work ethic),
- neuroticism (labelled at the other end of the scale as emotional stability),
- openness (to new experiences, ideas, cultures, etc.), and
Sceptics have claimed that emotional intelligence wouldn’t explain much once the Big Five traits are taken into account. To settle these disputes, we conducted a comprehensive meta-analysis, or statistical summary, of the research on emotional intelligence, and combined it with the large-scale studies on the Big Five personality traits and job satisfaction, organisational commitment, and turnover intentions. We also included in our study the effects of cognitive intelligence on these three work attitudes.
Although we expected that emotional intelligence would be important, we were surprised by how large the effects of emotional intelligence were when compared to the other variables. When using the most popular ways to measure emotional intelligence (self-report scales and self-report mixed competencies), we found that emotional intelligence was the most important of the traits when predicting all three work attitudes, and was more important than cognitive intelligence as well. Self-report emotional intelligence measures accounted for 31 per cent of the total influence on employee job satisfaction, 47 per cent of the effects on organisational commitment, and a whopping 61 per cent of the effects on turnover intentions.
For turnover intentions, emotional intelligence was more important than cognitive intelligence and the Big Five variables put together. For organisational commitment, it was only slightly less than the other variables put together and far more than any other single one. The self-report emotional intelligence measures doubled the ability of researchers to predict turnover intentions, thus showing its considerable practical importance.
We also wanted to know how emotional intelligence has such powerful effects on employees’ attitudes. One way might be by increasing employees’ job performance, since employees who do well at work are more likely to receive praise and other rewards, feel competent at their job, and overall be more satisfied. A prior study found that emotional intelligence did indeed boost employees’ job performance over and above what could be accounted for by the Big Five traits and cognitive intelligence. So, we tested whether the emotional intelligence → job performance→ job satisfaction relationship explained some of the effects of emotional intelligence on job satisfaction. Sure enough, the statistical analyses supported this interpretation.
We also thought that emotional intelligence would help employees maintain better moods at work. Psychologists referred to the moods that people currently feel as “state affect,” and state affect can range from intensely negative emotions to highly positive ones. The workplace can be filled with frustrating events, and emotional intelligence can help people maintain positive state affect when encountering these problems, and experience more positive emotions during normal times as well. Thus, we hypothesised that emotional intelligence → state affect→ job satisfaction. Again, the statistical data supported this hypothesis.
Our other studies also found that emotional intelligence increases organisational citizenship behaviour and reduces counterproductive work behaviours, and that leaders high on emotional intelligence have employees with higher job satisfaction. In conclusion, if organisations want highly satisfied, committed employees with high job performance, then they should recruit emotionally intelligent employees, and train all employees in emotional competencies.
- This blog post is based on the authors’ paper A meta-analysis of emotional intelligence and work attitudes, Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 2017
- The post gives the views of its authors, not the position of LSE Business Review or the London School of Economics.
- Featured image credit: Photo by Goumbik, under a CC0 licence
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