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Does Emotional Intelligence Predict Job Performance?
July 27, 2016 8:00:00 PM EDT   By Ted Axton

Does Emotional Intelligence Predict Job Performance?

Image indicating the many facets of emotional intelligence Over the past one hundred years, employers have measured many different traits or characteristics of job applicants in order to predict future performance on the job. These include cognitive ability, personality factors, past behaviors, knowledge, skills, and job-related competencies. Recently, however, a new category has started to grow in popularity: emotional intelligence. In this article, we take a look at what Emotional Intelligence really is and whether it is useful as a predictor of future performance.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence (EI; Sometimes called EQ) is the capacity to be aware of and understand your own emotions, as well as other people’s emotions, and to use that information to manage your own reactions and respond effectively in social situations. The concept gained considerable attention in the 1990s, with the publication of a book called Emotional Intelligence (Goleman, 1995). Since then, it continues to be researched and used to help people interact with others more effectively. Emotional Intelligence has been measured in different ways by different test developers. Self awareness, empathy, and self control are at the core of EI. There is some disagreement among researchers as to whether EI is a new concept, whether it is a useful concept for employment testing, and how it should be measured. These questions are addressed below.

Does emotional intelligence predict success on the job?

In short, yes. A growing body of research demonstrates that EI predicts job success, as well as other important outcomes on the job (Carmeli, 2003; Farh et al., 2012; O’Boyle at al., 2011; Semadar et al., 2006; Van Rooy & Viswesvaran, 2004; Wong & Law, 2002). One study, published by Cote and Miners in 2006, showed that employees with relatively low cognitive intelligence can achieve strong job performance by compensating for it with high emotional intelligence under the right conditions.

Most jobs include some degree of frustration, and if everyone lost control of their emotions every time things didn’t go their way at work, nobody would ever get anything done. Those with higher EI tend to have better social relations with people, including management, coworkers, and customers. This leads to a wide range of positive outcomes. Having highly-tuned skills in sensing how other people are feeling and being aware of how your own emotions are impacting your thinking can be very valuable in managing conflict, dealing with complex social situations, and solving problems in team settings. This can help avert escalations of conflict, and enable the person to solve problems proactively.

Image of a positive customer experience at a cash registerImagine a sales associate is interacting with a customer. The customer is not communicating very clearly about what they want, but they are giving subtle cues about their communication style and how they are feeling. Someone who has low emotional intelligence may misread what the person wants and respond in a way that is frustrating to that customer. Alternatively, someone high in emotional intelligence is more likely to accurately interpret the customer’s needs and respond in a way that effectively influences the customer, resulting in stronger sales performance (Huggins et al, 2016).

High Emotional Intelligence can also improve work success by helping to:

  • Use mental capacity on work tasks instead of getting carried away with emotional reactions
  • Diffuse situations where there is potential for conflict and other nonproductive behaviors
  • Anticipate others’ reactions and adjust approach to enable effective communications
  • Not offend others, not alienate customers or partners, not cause problems
  • Demonstrate better impulse control, avoiding distractions and staying focused

One recent meta-analysis found a correlation of p=.29 between EI and supervisor-rated job performance (Joseph et al., 2015). The authors characterize EI as a measure that is a shorthand version that contains components of multiple established measures. The table below presents the relationships they found between some of those related measures and job performance. Cognitive ability demonstrated the highest power of prediction of success on the job. EI provides a snapshot view of a certain combination of skills that are important for success on the job.

Example Correlations between Test Performance and Supervisor Ratings of Job Performance*

TestType
Validity
Cognitive Ability .44
Emotional Intelligence .29
Conscientiousness .21
Emotional Stability .11
Extraversion .09

* Source is Joseph et al. (2015) meta-analysis

Emotional Intelligence can also impact other important outcomes, such as organizational citizenship. Research has shown that employees who have higher EI tend to focus more on the welfare of their organization, and put more effort into actions that help the organization to function effectively, even though the activities are not directly required of them (Shrestha & Baniya, 2016). Similarly, higher emotional intelligence is related to adaptability for frontline service employees, which in turn is related to job outcomes, such as job satisfaction and job performance (Sony & Nandakumar, 2016).

Of course, there is debate about Emotional Intelligence. Some have suggested that EI is not really a new concept, and that some of the published research that seems to indicate it’s the very best predictor of job performance may overestimate its validity (e.g., Joseph et al., 2015). Rather, it is simply a clever combination and repackaging of other things we already knew predicted job performance, and still does not relate to job performance as well as cognitive ability. These are fair criticisms. Nonetheless, emotional intelligence has become as popular as it has because it makes sense, and, as noted above, a growing body of research does show that it predicts success on the job, as well as other important outcomes.

How can you measure emotional intelligence for a job?

In roles where employees must interact with other people, for example, Customer Service, Sales, and Management, the higher their capacity to be in touch with their own and others’ emotions, understand those emotions, and behave in ways that are socially appropriate and demonstrate impulse control, the better they will be received by other people. Given this pattern of skills and abilities, it’s not surprising that EI is related to Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, and Emotional Stability, as well as cognitive ability. Emotional Intelligence can be used as one component of a good selection process for hiring employees, as long as the potential overlap among different tools being used is considered, and the combination of tools covers important skills for success on the job.

There are a number of available EI measures. Some focus on EI as an ability, and some are self-report measures that represent EI in what is called a “mixed model,” which generally includes self awareness, self regulation, social skill, empathy, and motivation. Three competencies in particular are core to the concept of EI, because they involve the process of dealing with emotions directly. Being aware of one’s own emotions and how one should behave in social situations, being aware of other people’s emotions and caring about others, and being adept at impulse control and maintaining calm can be thought of as “minimum requirements” for EI. Though it admittedly is a fuzzy concept whose effectiveness probably is overstated in certain publications, EI is a tool that can provide useful information about a candidate in a relatively efficient way. A streamlined EI measure is described below.

Three Core Competencies of Emotional Intelligence

Competency
Definition
Relation to Job Performance
Emotional Self Awareness Monitors and understands how and why one reacts in particular ways to different situations, and knows how to conduct oneself appropriately and effectively in social situations Interacts with customers and coworkers in an appropriate and measured way that reflects calm competence and inspires confidence
Empathy Senses and understands other people’s feelings, feels sympathy for other people, and sees things from other people’s point of view Improves customer loyalty and wallet share through improved relationships, reducing levels of conflict in the workplace
Emotional Self Control Manages the desire to satisfy urges or impulses, shows restraint and manages behaviors to ensure appropriate and effective work habits and interactions with others, maintains composure in stressful situations Prioritizes work tasks effectively, meeting long-term goals, and ability to form and leverage cooperative work relationships for better outcomes

HR Avatar offers a test that measures the three core components described above. They are three of the most common aspects of the somewhat diverse set of competencies that make up EI. HR Avatar’s EI Test is a streamlined mixed-model job-related questionnaire, and is offered as a new addition to HR Avatar’s personality assessment to provide an alternate window into candidates’ interpersonal skills, without having to use a separate test. It measures the core competencies of EI in a self-report assessment.

An example item would be:

I can usually tell how other people are feeling.

It’s important to note that while EI can help predict success on the job, it provides just one piece of the puzzle for predicting success on the job. The best way to evaluate a candidate is to measure multiple traits, including cognitive ability, past behavior and related job knowledge.

HR Avatar job simulation tests offer all-in-one assessments that include emotional intelligence measures alongside other predictors of success, including:

Cognitive Ability
  • Analytical Thinking
  • Attention to Detail
Emotional Intelligence
  • Emotional Self Awareness
  • Empathy
  • Emotional Self Control
Behavioral History
  • Risk of short tenure
  • Risk of poor performance
Attitudes, Interests, and Motivations (Personality)
  • Adaptability
  • Competitiveness
  • Corporate Citizenship
  • Develops Relationships
  • Enjoys Problem-Solving
  • Exhibits a Positive Work Attitude
  • Innovative and Creative
  • Expressive and Outgoing
  • Needs Structure
  • Seeks Perfection
Sample jobs where Emotional Intelligence has been proven to predict productivity/ quality of hire
  • Retail Sales Associates
  • Services Sales Staff
  • Sales Managers
  • Customer Service Associates
  • Supervisory Staff
  • Managers
  • Executives

References

Carmeli, A. (2003). The relationship between emotional intelligence and work attitudes, behavior and outcomes: An examination among senior managers. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 18(8), 788-813.

Cote, S., Miners, C.T.H. (2006). Emotional intelligence, cognitive intelligence, and job performance. Administrative Science Quarterly, 51, 1-28.

Farh, C.I.C.C., Seo, M., Teslluk, P.E. (2012). Emotional intelligence, teamwork effectiveness, and job performance: The moderating role of job context. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97(4), 890-900.

Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional Intelligence, New York, NY, England: Bantam Books, Inc.

Huggins, K.A., White, D.W., & Stahl, J. (2016). Antecedents to sales force job motivation and performance: The critical role of emotional intelligence and affect-based trust in retailing managers. International Journal of Sales, Retailing & Marketing, 5(1), 27-37.

Joseph, D.L., Jin, J., Newman, D.A., & O’Boyle, E.H. (2015). Why does self-reported emotional intelligence predict job performance? A meta-analytic investigation of mixed EI. Journal of Applied Psychology, 100(2), 298-342.

O’Boyle, E.H., Humphrey, R.H., Pollack, J.M., Hawver, T.H., & Story, P.A. (2011). The relation between emotional intelligence and job performance: A meta-analysis. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 32, 788-818.

Semadar, A., Robbins, G., & Ferris, G.R. (2006). Comparing the validity of multiple social effectiveness constructs in the prediction of managerial job performance. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 27(4), 443-461.

Shresna, A.K., Baniha, R. (2016). Emotional intelligence and employee outcomes: Moderating role of organizational politics. Business Perspectives & Research, 4(1), 15-26.

Sony, M., & Nandakumar, M. (2016). The relationship between emotional intelligence, frontline employee adaptability, job satisfaction and job performance. Journal of Retailing & Consumer Services, 30, 20-32.

Van Rooy, D.L., Viswesvaran, C. (2004). Emotional intelligence: A meta-analytic investigation of predictive validity and nomological net. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 65(1), 71-95.

Wong, C.S., Law, K.S. (2002). The effects of leader and follower emotional intelligence on performance and attitude: An exploratory study. The Leadership Quarterly, 13(3), 243-274.

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