Forget AI, EI could be the key to unlocking your staff woes

It may seem an arcane concept to many organizations, but understanding, managing and fostering the emotions of your staff can lead to outcomes ranging from greater employee satisfaction to reduced absenteeism.

Our emotions play a great role in how we work: if we are negative in our approach it leads to a sharpening of the senses and we are better at finding the fault in things. Conversely, when we are feeling upbeat and positive we are more lateral and creative in our thinking.

"If you look at job satisfaction surveys, happy people work more productively," says Dr Ben Palmer, director of research and development at Genos, an Australian-based firm that designs and distributes psychometric assessment tests.

Understanding emotions is one of Palmer's specialities. For his PhD he examined the reliability and factorial validity of a number of emotional intelligence tests with an Australian population sample.

Now with Genos, Palmer provides psychometric assessment instruments for organizations. Last financial year alone Genos sold 12,000 of these tests which are used to start a process of inquiry into a person's emotions.

But he admits it can be a hard sell.

"For people from an industry or background that is technically focused, it is harder to understand this jump from not using emotions to using emotions."

When staff are emotionally happy, the roll-on effects are huge, he says.

"It affects employee satisfaction and engagement," he says. Staff want to identify with where they work; the quality of work improves and they feel valued. Employees talk about where they work with pride."

A definition of EI is best summed up by Daniel Goleman, the author of the 1995 international bestseller Emotional Intelligence. Goleman says EI is "the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships".

The application of emotional intelligence in the workplace challenges the last 50 years of management literature, Palmer says. Historically, workers have been told to leave emotions at the door, and take them home with them when they leave work for the day. "It was to suppress emotions."

Now, with a younger generation of employees, it is not about suppressing emotions. "They [emotions] are exposed in a professional manner. Now, it is about understanding your emotions at work and being self-aware. It is using our emotions to our own benefit."

Palmer will make the case of why we should develop a business case for EI in the workplace at the SEARCC 05 conference at Sydney's Darling Harbour Convention Centre on Thursday afternoon.

IDG is the official organizer and media sponsor of the SEARCC conference.

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