Building an Emotionally Intelligent Workplace: Key Steps for HR Leaders to Implement

As burnout and layoffs continue to negatively impact workers, it’s more important than ever to support the wellbeing of employees. Enter appreciation – a people-first approach to the workplace that recognizes the value of employees. It is more than a motivator, it is the catalyst for happy, fulfilled and productive employees. A true culture of appreciation, however, can only be achieved by building an emotionally intelligent workplace.

Emotional Intelligence as a Foundation for Wellbeing

Without a doubt, Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is a crucial factor that impacts various aspects of the workplace – from communication, teamwork and leadership to conflict resolution and overall wellbeing. Employees with high EQ tend to be more effective communicators and contribute to creating psychologically safe workplaces. Looking at workplace relationships through the lens of EQ, these soft skills become marketable hard skills that drive productivity and employee engagement – leading with empathy, effective communication, active listening, flexibility and understanding, to name a few.

From a leadership perspective, developing EQ can enhance leadership’s and managers’ self-awareness and recognize the impact they have on the entire organization. This awareness enables them to self-regulate their emotions more effectively, making them better equipped to manage challenging situations through empathy and understanding. Having an emotionally intelligent workplace, especially for those in management roles, ultimately fosters a culture that not only believes in, but actively practices, the “power of appreciation” – the key to employee experience and wellbeing.

Esther Perel, renowned psychotherapist and relational intelligence expert, has stated: “It’s the quality of our relationships that determines the quality of our lives, but it’s equally so that the quality of relationships at work determines the actual quality of our work and our overall ability to succeed.”

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The Value of EQ Assessments 

To achieve this, leaders must be open minded enough to realize traditional management practices simply don’t work. Incorporating EQ into leadership development programs, including self-assessments as well the ability to gather feedback, provides a platform to build self-awareness, especially in areas where there is a gap between self-perception and the perception of others.

Opening the door for self-reflection encourages open and honest communication between employees and their managers, enabling a two-way dialogue, and resulting in a workplace environment that fosters true appreciation.

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a person cannot feel valued unless all other needs are met. In the context of the workplace, this can mean physiological needs (discounts or benefits), safety and security needs (physical, mental, nutritional and financial wellbeing), love and belonging needs (communication, culture and communication), self-esteem needs (learning and development, recognition and incentives), and finally, appreciation, fulfilling self-actualization needs. In short, if an employee feels they are underpaid or overworked, for example, they may not feel valued, even if management shows appreciation often.

Taking Action Through Appreciation

The need for appreciation can’t be met adequately without considering Maslow’s other needs as well. In this instance, leadership should start by asking themselves: what are employees attracted to in a company/role? Where do people want to stay? How do they want to build and grow their careers? And finally, how can we help them?

Beyond this, what does appreciation look like in day-to-day operations? As appreciation is best received in the moment, there is a real need in the workplace for consistent, frequent and worthwhile conversations led by appreciation, so that employees realize the importance of their work. It’s more than just acknowledging their accomplishments at work. Utilizing EQ skills, management should feel empowered to break the cycle of focusing only on feedback and praise, but seeing and actively recognizing the employee’s value and contributions, even when it isn’t prompted by a specific work accomplishment. The small moments throughout the year will inevitably be forgotten, so show your appreciation as it happens, building that momentum towards self-actualization.

The key to building a culture of appreciation is having a true understanding of what matters to your people, in and outside of work settings. Fostering meaningful relationships with employees will help management to better understand them and offers the ability to consistently acknowledge their needs and desires. When leadership adjusts their approach based on a connection with each person, a foundation of trust, support, and appreciation is built.

Expectations for the workplace have changed immensely, going far beyond simply showing up and getting paid. Today, it is imperative that leadership have the EQ to recognize the need for an emphasis on wellbeing, engagement, and a sense of belonging. Without investment here, companies may continue to cycle through employees.

Giving EQ a Seat at the Table

Lastly, it’s critical for HR and People Leaders to have a seat at the boardroom table, helping to pivot business strategy to focus on the “power of appreciation” and building an emotionally intelligent workforce. Incorporating HR strategy into the C-suite can help drive home the business benefits of making employee appreciation a top priority, which includes higher profitability and employee retention rates. Designating an existing senior leader as Chief Appreciation Officer can help achieve this, serving as an advocate for building emotional intelligence and developing a tactical people-focused strategy.

To show appreciation effectively, businesses must ensure they have established an emotionally intelligent workforce, a key prerequisite for management to be self-aware and easily recognize how they show up as leaders in their organization. From there, they have the means to consistently implement it. Most humans spend a third of their lives at work, so it is imperative, not only for happiness and fulfillment, but for productivity and business outcomes, that work is a place where we feel truly valued, appreciated and understood. This movement is just beginning, and I would encourage all HR leaders and management to join in to transform the way we approach the workplace: with true emotional intelligence and a people-first strategy.

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