By Jason Blaik
Definition of EI

The capacity to accurately measure an individual’s level of emotional intelligence has the potential to provide organisations with a significant competitive advantage.

In its simplest form emotional intelligence has been defined as an individual’s ability to deal effectively with emotions. However, more detailed definitions of emotional intelligence differ depending on the model of EI and method of assessment that is used. Specifically, emotional intelligence is typically assessed in one of two ways: ability-based testing or self-report surveys. Ability-based assessments define emotional intelligence as “the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use the information to guide one’s thinking and action” (Salovey & Mayer, 1990, p.189). This definition highlights four aspects of EI, which include an individual’s capacity to:

1. Recognise their own and others’ emotions
2. Generate and use emotions in problem solving
3. Understand emotions and how emotions may change and
4. Manage their own and others’ emotions

Ability-based assessments measure how well an individual performs tasks using emotion and solves emotional problems. Self-report assessments of emotional intelligence define the term as non-cognitive (emotional and social) competencies that assist a person to cope with daily environmental demands. Accordingly, self-report assessments measure an individual’s subjective assessment of their own emotional competencies to cope with environmental demands.

Importance of EI in the workplace

The use of emotional intelligence measures in recruitment and selection settings has gained significant momentum in Australian organisations over recent years. This surge in popularity reflects the growing belief that emotions play an important role in organisational behaviour. Specifically, it is expected that emotional abilities influence an individual’s capacity to form quality social relationships, communicate effectively, manage stress, pressure, and conflict, and make effective decisions, thereby affecting behaviour at work (Lopes, Côté, & Salovey, 2006).

In support of the increased use of EI tests, an emerging body of empirical evidence demonstrates the ability of emotional intelligence tests to predict a wide range of organisational behaviours. For example, research indicates that individuals high in emotional intelligence are more likely to form quality relationships at work, experience greater career success, make more effective leaders, and are more successful at managing stress and conflict at work (Zeidner, Matthews, & Roberts, 2004).

Each of these behaviours has important implications for overall job performance (Van Rooy & Viswesvaran, 2004). For example, research suggests that individuals with high levels of EI are more likely to receive favourable performance ratings from their supervisors (Janovics & Christiansen, 2002; as cited in Mayer, Salovey & Caruso, 2004).

EI and the nature of work

Although research supports the use of EI tests across a wide range of occupations, industries, and job levels, different jobs call for different amounts of emotional intelligence (Zeidner et al., 2004).

Emotional intelligence makes the greatest contribution to job performance in jobs that require the development and maintenance of positive interpersonal relationships (Lopes et al., 2006). With this in mind it is not surprising then that emotional intelligence is of particular importance in positions that involve teamwork, customer service, or managing other people (i.e. managerial or supervisory positions).

Specifically, managers high in EI have been found to exhibit more effective leadership behaviours (Daus & Ashkanasy, 2005). Furthermore, when working in teams research has found that individuals high in EI are more likely to be satisfied than individuals low in EI (Lopes, Salovey, Cote, & Beers, 2005). Using EI tests in recruitment and selection settings is likely to be of greater value when the job involves any of the following elements:

  • A high amount of interactions with clients or customers (e.g. helping professions; customer service occupations)
  • Influencing others’ motives or emotions (e.g. sales occupations)
  • Matching one’s own behaviour to the needs of others
  • Managing others (e.g. supervisory, managerial positions)
  • A high need to regulate emotions whilst at work (e.g. policing, correctional occupations)
  • Working closely with others (e.g. autonomous work teams).