Employee Emotional Intelligence; Having It Versus Actually Using It

Emotional intelligence (EI) is defined as the ability to understand, use, and manage emotions. This has been deemed an essential quality for many employees. Previous research has suggested that employees with high EI can readily apply this strength at work and benefit from it. However, research has also suggested that those who possess high EI might not effectively use this strength under certain circumstances. What can hold people back from actualizing their full EI potential?


In this study, researchers (Ma et al., 2022) investigated how certain constraints, such as workplace ostracism, impact how employees engage in EI. This research was conducted in two phases. The first phase included sending participants a survey assessing demographics and general EI. In the following 5 weeks, online surveys were sent to employees to assess weekly levels of workplace ostracism and the extent to which employees engaged in EI (e.g., “In this week, I had a good understanding of my emotions”). Additionally, the researchers also contacted each employee’s supervisor to evaluate workplace performance.

The results indicated that EI engagement was related to both self-report and supervisor-report workplace performance. However, when employees experienced workplace ostracism, general EI ability was not as likely to translate into actual EI engagement. Additionally, this lower EI engagement had a negative impact on workplace performance.


As many organizations have prioritized EI while hiring and training employees, the current research has suggested that simply having a high level of EI does not necessarily lead to engaging in EI at work. In fact, when employees experience greater workplace ostracism, EI may not be as predictive of employee performance. With that being said, organizations should be mindful about workplace ostracism and the potential negative work outcomes that it may cause.


Ma, J., Zeng, Z., & Fang, K. (2022). Emotionally savvy employees fail to enact emotional intelligence when ostracized. Personality and Individual Differences185, 111250.

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