Using emotional intelligence to combat burnout

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You don’t need another article to tell you that the world has changed as a result of COVID — we all know that’s true. What some managers are already forgetting, though, is that the pandemic taught us an incredibly valuable lesson: Our employees are human.

Over the past year and a half, many people have been forced to juggle caring for their children, being quasi-educators and continuing to perform at work with a variety of new variables. Our employees have spent the past 18 months not just doing one job, but three separate jobs simultaneously. When we add on being constantly bombarded with external stressors like the ever-shifting landscape of the pandemic itself, the media reporting scary developments seemingly every day, health insecurity, loss of loved ones and the financial insecurity due to a salary reduction or a partner being laid off, it’s no wonder that employee engagement has fallen through the floor. People are tired, and studies are now showing that managers simply don’t know how to help their employees deal with burnout.

This is where emotional intelligence comes in.

What is emotional intelligence?

Research psychologists Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer stated that emotional intelligence is “the ability to perceive emotions, to access and generate emotions so as to assist thought, to understand emotions and emotional knowledge, and to reflectively regulate emotions so as to promote emotional and intellectual growth.”

Put plainly, emotional intelligence is the ability to identify how someone is feeling, motivate and empower them, demonstrate empathy, and inspire them to be better tomorrow than they are today. What’s really cool about emotional intelligence is that it is very similar to behaving like a leader. If you want to help your employees navigate burnout, stop acting like a manager and start acting like a leader.

How does emotional intelligence apply in the workforce?

Think of your favorite boss, mentor or aspirational figure in your life. They almost certainly had one of two things: An advanced skill set that you admired, or emotional intelligence. If that person was senior in their role, they likely had both. Few people rise in the ranks without a strong competence in their vertical. Similarly, few people rise in the ranks without emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the key to tangible and noteworthy success in both business and life.

You may be thinking to yourself, “This sounds great, but how do I do it?” It’s simple: Leaders REST.

Here are four tips for developing and demonstrating emotional intelligence:

Leaders know that they need to give their people opportunities to take on new responsibilities, try new things, and have the psychological safety to fail and try again. When a leader does this, it frees up time to focus on other priorities, like creative thought for a new initiative or actually taking time away from work to focus on personal priorities. Leaders REST is also an acronym: Respect, Empathy, Service and Trust.

Leaders give respect, demonstrate empathy, are of service and build trust. When we do these things, we are behaving like a leader. When we do these things, we are demonstrating emotional intelligence. Let’s dig in deeper:

Give respect

Some people say, “Respect must be earned.” Those people aren’t emotionally intelligent. Respect can be given freely, even if you don’t like the other person. The reality is that person is a human being who has done lots of good things. You may not agree with them or want to spend personal time with them, but you can respect that they are driven, passionate, knowledgeable, committed or a litany of other traits. It’s a choice to give respect freely. If you choose this, not only does it demonstrate emotional intelligence, but it also leads to reciprocated respect.

Demonstrate empathy

Emotionally intelligent individuals know that life is hard and bad things happen. You can demonstrate empathy by being compassionate, present, listening to understand rather than respond and being human with other humans. When you do this, you’ll find that when something bad happens at home and an employee fails to deliver at work, they won’t fear you but will instead seek you out for counsel and support.

Be of service

There is no such thing as a servant leader. You either are a leader who is of service, or you are just a manager. Leaders motivate, inspire and empower those around them. They do this by genuinely caring about those that they are charged with serving. They do this by asking questions, learning about those they serve and showing how organizational goals align with individual goals. Being emotionally intelligent means being others-focused. Being others-focused means being of service. Being of service makes you a leader.

Build trust

Emotionally intelligent individuals know that they can choose to trust others, even when it’s uncomfortable or hard. They know that failure will occur and that it’s okay. They know that by exhibiting trust, trust is reciprocated. They also know to be congruent with their words and actions and to have an extremely high standard for their own personal integrity, all of which helps to develop psychological safety.

For some people building trust seems daunting. Remember this, though: You’ve been new to things before and you weren’t an expert at your job on day one. Emotional intelligence is the same. Whether this is new to you or not, you’ve had lots of interactions with others throughout your life. Some were incredible and fill you with pride. Others were awful, and you wish you could forget them. All these experiences are in your toolkit and give you the power to succeed in demonstrating emotional intelligence if you first trust yourself to try.

Key takeaway:

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember the lesson COVID taught us: That we are all humans. We don’t become superhumans when we start working and go back to being regular humans when we stop working. We’re humans all the time. Humans have limits. Everything breaks when too much pressure is applied — even us.

Understanding and honoring the limits of those on our teams is the most compassionate thing we can do for our employees right now. Taking a moment to show them that you really care and are concerned about them will pay dividends for your relationship, their mental health, and the long-term success of your organization.

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