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Attracting and retaining talent

How to Use Emotional Intelligence to Drive Employee Engagement

Create a culture that means business™

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Now more than ever HR professionals are being called upon to demonstrate their value and generate tangible business results through their efforts. This can feel exciting and terrifying at the same time. It opens up a tremendous opportunity to leave your thumbprint on the organization’s bottom line. It also provides an opening to make a positive impact on your organization’s “emotional culture” – recently defined in the Harvard Business Review as: “The shared affective values, norms, artifacts, and assumptions that govern which emotions people have and express at work and which ones they are better off suppressing.”

Why is this important? Research cited in the HBR article points out that a company’s emotional culture can have an effect on, “Employee satisfaction, burnout, teamwork, and even hard measures such as financial performance and absenteeism.”

So how can organizations shape emotional culture for the better? Through Emotional Intelligence (EI). EI is the capacity to be aware of, control and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships empathetically.

“Self-awareness, social aptitude and the drive to deliver; emotional and social intelligence gets hard results. Our studies show it accounts for more than 85 percent of star performance in top leaders.” – Hay Group

I believe EI is one of the top (if not, THE top) investments an organization can make for their workforce. Why? It’s at the core of a virtuous cycle that leads to strong financial results and breeds an enviable culture.

Emotionally intelligent leaders are a key factor in driving employee engagement. Show me a company with high levels of employee engagement and I’ll show you a company with a strong culture and business results. According to Workplace Research Foundation, highly engaged employees are 38% more likely to have above-average productivity. And so, with employee engagement at hand, the virtuous cycle continues.


Have you ever had the opportunity to work for one of those charismatic, yet humble leaders? The kind of leader with that makes you feel safe, heard, seen and valued? If yes, you were sitting on the other side of a leader with a high level of EI (aka EQ), and he/she would likely score higher than their peers on an Emotional Social Competency (ESC) inventory.

This correlation between the top performers in an organization and those with robust EQ competencies should not be ignored by business leaders because managers with high levels of EI and ESC are likely to be the ones with the power to take your business to the next level. They’re the ones that employees will follow to the moon and back and stay actively engaged at the workplace. In fact, they actively create engaged employees. How? Because they are skilled at meeting some of the the most fundamental of human needs – the need to feel safe, to be heard, to be seen and be valued.

And EI is something not only organizations can benefit from, the impact can be felt by society at large. If we are able to positively impact employees’ work environments, think of the impact it could have on everyone else they interact with outside of work. And the people those people interact with and so on … the opportunity is exponential (think of the Liberty Mutual commercial).

Forbes shared that mood and engagement are contagious – stating if you have a friend that is happy, the probability you will be happier goes up by 25%. And Fortune revealed the happier your employees are, the more productive they will be – approximately 12-20% more productive. Another term for this is “emotional contagion” – the ripple effect where emotions, both positive and negative, are seen to spread among employees. So it’s important to note that EI doesn’t apply only at an individual level, but also at the team level.

 “In teamwork, emotional intelligence is the crucial social lubricant, providing the capacity to settle disputes well, brainstorm creatively, and work harmoniously. This is all the more true for great team leaders. It turns out that team members who scored higher on the ECI, a test of emotional and social competencies, were most likely to emerge as the natural leaders.” Daniel Goleman (Jan 2007)

I was first introduced to EI and ESC while taking a MOOC course titled Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence. Later, I went on to attend grad school and pursued a Masters in Positive Organizational Development & Change. I had the opportunity to study EI under the tutelage of Dr. Richard Boyatzis  and Dr. Melvin Smith at Case Western Reserve University. I’ve been in love with the concepts of EI and ESC ever since. It gave me a new approach to describing and defining a highly desirable employee, whether it’s a front-line contributor, people manager, senior leader or executive. It also gave me the opportunity to go through the Emotional Social Competency Inventory (ESCI) 360 feedback assessment process. After grad school, I went on to complete the ESCI accreditation and licensure through KornFerry Hay Group. Obtaining these credentials allows me to conduct individual inventories and provide feedback and coaching to develop a person’s EI. This led to a deep and challenging introspective journey to shine a light in some dark corners of the HR industry that needed some attention. It’s my belief that you can’t offer to your people what you don’t have within yourself.

If you would like to learn more about EI, below are some great resources:



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