(This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.)
When hiring managers consider candidates, they often focus on the skills and attributes listed on a résumé, but this is a two-dimensional way to assess whether or not a candidate will be a good fit for a particular job or company culture, and research shows that résumés are not a very reliable way to gather information on prospective employees. There are also soft skills, such as creativity, which can’t be gleaned from a glance at a piece of paper, as well as attitudes and temperaments that inform how a potential employee interprets and approaches problems.
One of the key characteristics that companies are increasingly looking for in their candidates is emotional intelligence (EI), which refers to a person’s ability to process his or her own emotions, understand the emotions of others and respond in a healthy and productive way. EI is one of the things that can help hold a company culture together — it helps colleagues support one another through stress and conflict, leads to greater empathy and understanding and ultimately increases morale and cohesion.
EI is especially important during the Covid-19 pandemic and the large-scale shift to remote work. Not only has the lack of regular in-person interaction imposed a tremendous strain on employees’ mental health, but it has also forced people to make the most of their digital interactions and learn how to interpret a new set of social standards without body language or other physical cues.
How EI Creates A Healthy Workplace Culture
There’s a clearly documented connection between EI and higher levels of employee engagement, retention and job satisfaction. This is because EI addresses employees’ most fundamental needs and concerns, from the desire for their voices to be heard to the ability to solve problems collaboratively and creatively. EI is at the center of healthy relationships between colleagues because it helps them listen to one another, recognize and address problems when they arise and approach every interaction with genuine concern for the feelings of others.
According to a recent report published by Harvard Business Review, emotionally intelligent companies are uniquely capable of engaging and empowering their workforces, building purpose-driven cultures and facilitating the cultivation of interpersonal skills that allow employees to “develop innovative solutions on their own.” These companies also have significantly higher levels of customer loyalty and better customer experiences than their peers. Meanwhile, a 2019 Hubspot survey found that 82% of employees would consider leaving their jobs for a more empathic company.
Despite the wide-ranging advantages of EI in the workplace, the HBR survey found persistent gaps between how much respondents value traits associated with EI and whether they believe those traits are actually embraced by their organizations. For example, 56% said they value empathy, but just 46% said their organizations do the same. This gap is much starker when it comes to self-awareness — 41% and 13%, respectively. These are reminders that companies need to focus on EI more seriously, and this begins with who they hire.
EI In An Era Of Remote Work
While EI is often associated with in-person interactions, Covid-19 has been a powerful reminder that an emotionally intelligent workforce is vital to employees’ psychological well-being whether they’re in an office or sitting in their living rooms. This is particularly true at a time when American workers are feeling isolated and emotionally exhausted amid lockdowns, economic uncertainty and so on.
According to a recent survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 41% of employees say they feel burned out from work, while 45% say they’re emotionally drained. Between 22% and 35% of employees report experiencing symptoms of depression often, while two-thirds say they experience these symptoms sometimes. What might be even more distressing is the fact that 37% of employees haven’t taken any action to cope with their depression-related symptoms.
These are all reminders that EI remains crucial even for a virtual workforce. Many employees are in need of emotional support now more than ever, but a recent Smartsheet survey found that three-quarters of American workers feel less connected while working from home. Managers and colleagues with high EI are in a stronger position to recognize when these employees are dealing with anxiety or feeling alienated, and they’re more capable of reaching out to help.
How Companies Can Build Emotionally Intelligent Workforces
Although traditional methods of hiring (résumés, cover letters and interviews) will be with us for the foreseeable future, companies are now capable of using evidence-based methods to determine whether candidates have the skills and temperaments for specific jobs. A 2019 SHRM survey found that one of the most pressing problems hiring managers face is a lack of soft skills, such as problem-solving and creativity. Many of these qualities (such as communication and empathy) provide the scaffolding that makes up EI.
There are many ways that companies can appraise candidates on the basis of soft skills and EI:
- Pre-employment assessments: These assessments are evidence-based tools that provide an objective way for hiring managers to cut through biases and get an accurate picture of a potential employee’s interpersonal skills and temperament as well as their cognitive and communication skills.
- Behavioral interview questions: Though more subjective than assessments, by asking candidates to think back on their past work experiences and reflect on how they handled various work situations, even in the hypothetical, you can better gauge their EI. Some sample questions could be: How have you handled a difficult situation with a coworker? Can you share an example of a time when you were able to motivate fellow employees? How have you or would you handle a difficult situation with a client or vendor?
- Reference checks: EI has an impact on how a person interacts with others at work, so who better to ask than the people who either previously managed or worked directly alongside the candidate? Though not always the most effective, it's better to conduct them than not.
EI is a trait that encompasses many things hiring managers value — from an employee’s ability to collaborate productively with colleagues to communication skills that generate trust and confidence within a workforce (which in turn increases morale and decreases turnover). In other words, EI leads to healthy company cultures in which all employees feel valued and included.