Back to Blog Posts
Back to Blog Posts

Emotional Intelligence – The Missing Link to Employee Engagement

by John Zettler

June 12, 2015
John Zettler

In talking with several Leaders recently on the topic of Employee Engagement, I’ve heard a consistent story. Their companies are working hard at engaging their employees, yet they’re not seeing the desired results. They’re paying attention to what their employees are telling them, addressing issues that have been raised through formal or informal engagement surveys but as much as 70% of their workforces are not engaged. So what’s missing?

After years of pondering this exact question, and after futile attempts at focusing only on impacting/influencing Employee Engagement Drivers, I’ve finally figured out the missing link to driving Employee Engagement. A quote from a white paper written by Dale Carnegie Training – “Emotional Drivers of Employee Engagement” – sums up this difference. And that difference is Emotional Intelligence:

“Emotions have a major impact on an employee’s engagement level. Certain emotional responses are positive, others negative, but negative emotions have greater influence. The fully engaged employee is more enthusiastic, empowered, happy, confident and valued. The disengaged find their workplace upsetting and are irritated merely by having to show up for work.”

The rest of this article is intended to give you a high-level preview of why Emotional Intelligence is so important in driving an engaged workforce. It’s important to note that I’m not suggesting for one minute that you don’t need to focus on improving the core drivers of engagement. What I’m suggesting is it’s not an either/or, it’s an “and”. You need to focus on the drivers of engagement, AND, you need to focus on developing an Emotionally Intelligent workforce.

Let me illustrate the impact of Emotional Intelligence by walking you through a practical scenario many of you have experienced at your own workplace.

Alex and Chris hold the same job in your company, report to the same Leader, are paid similarly, have similar benefits, access similar training and development offered by the company, have similar work/life balance, and deal with similar situations and challenges throughout the day. Almost everything they experience at work is the same. What I’ve just described are common drivers of Employee Engagement and so it should be reasonable to expect that if you focus on enhancing these drivers you should have a positive impact on the overall Engagement of your employees – right? Not so much!

My experience, and what I keep hearing from Leaders I talk to, suggests that you can focus all you want on these drivers of engagement and it still may not impact your overall level of engagement. Before we explore Emotional Intelligence in more detail, let me illustrate the importance of positive emotions in the workplace.



The Power of Positive Emotions




Here’s what Dale Carnegie Training says about the impact of positive emotions:
“People are more likely to help others when feeling positive emotions. Smiling not only makes us feel better but is infectious; we can store up positive feelings to protect us from negativity and help us through difficult times. This holds as true in our working life as it does in personal life. Analysis shows that feeling valued, confident, inspired, enthused and empowered are the key emotions that lead to engagement…”

Let’s go back to Alex and Chris to further analyze the impact of Emotional Intelligence.

Everyone describes Alex as a positive influence at work, always happy, easy to talk to, and generally someone people like. Chris on the other hand is described as often being negative, is the type of person who instigates negativity in the lunch room, is someone people struggle to get along with and is described as just generally seeming unhappy. Why? Likely because Alex is Emotionally Intelligent where Chris is not.

Emotional Intelligence – The Difference Maker

“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.”
– Dale Carnegie

Recently I had the opportunity to work in a Healthcare organization that has invested heavily in the concept of Emotional Intelligence. Popularized in the 1990’s by Daniel Goleman, Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to recognize one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.

The model introduced by Goleman focuses on EI as a wide array of competencies and skills that drive leadership performance. Goleman’s model outlines six main EI constructs:

1. Self-awareness – the ability to know one’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, drives, values and goals and recognize their impact on others while using gut feelings to guide decisions.
2. Self-management – the ability to regulate and manage our feelings so we can listen to them but not be driven by them.
3. Self-regulation – involves controlling or redirecting one’s disruptive emotions and impulses and adapting to changing circumstances.
4. Social skill – managing relationships to move people in the desired direction
5. Empathy – considering other people’s feelings especially when making decision
6. Motivation – being driven to achieve for the sake of achievement.

Isn’t Emotional Intelligence Just Me Talking About My Feelings?

If you’re like I was a couple years ago, you might think that the concept of Emotional Intelligence is fluffy and rooted in what I referred to then as “Kumbaya” sessions. As I started learning about and using the concepts of EI what I quickly learned is I was terribly wrong! Emotional Intelligence is about our ability to realize how emotions affect us and putting tools in place to better manage them. If we can do that, we’re better equipped to deal with the challenges of our professional and personal lives.

The Science Behind Emotional Intelligence

DISCLAIMER – this is as deep as I’ll get into the science behind EI.

At the root of the problem is that our brain is wired in a way that We Feel before We Think. Everything that enters our brain is filtered through what’s called the Amygdala (picture this as our emotional filter). In order for us to survive, our amygdala takes over, it is the brain’s radar for threat. It is hardwired to rapidly respond to perceived threats with a survival response of fight, flight or freeze.

This fight, flight or freeze response used to be critically important especially if you ran into a sabertooth tiger. Today and for the most part, people are not living in a world where we are dealing with physical safety issues like sabertooth tigers.

But we might say that there are emotional safety issues both professionally and personally which impact how we show up emotionally – “this person doesn’t like me”, “it’s not my fault, it’s theirs”, “this isn’t fair”, “I’m not good enough”, “my boss is mad at me and I’m going to get fired”, etc. This is where our amygdala kicks in. When we refer to the brain being “triggered” it is because that part of our brain – our amygdala – takes over. Our amygdala is constantly scanning and assessing when there is something unsafe in our environment.

We also know that negative emotions are particularly contagious. And what we know are strong emotions, anxiety, anger, frustration, fear, or betrayal trips your brain and impairs your ability to think rationally. The power of emotions overwhelms rationality. That’s why when we’re emotionally upset or stressed, we can’t think right and is also why a person who is not Emotionally Intelligent won’t be able to appreciate all the great things your company is doing for them and therefore won’t be engaged.

In Summary

It’s no surprise based on the power of positive emotions and Emotional Intelligence that Alex is an engaged employee. By being aware of, and managing their emotions, they are better able to cope with and have a positive outlook. It’s also no surprise that regardless of best efforts, Chris has been unable to appreciate all the great things that your company is doing to impact Employee Engagement. Chris, when faced with the challenges of work and life is not able to manage and regulate emotions and the impact to your business can be immense.

My advice to you is to stop trying to fix all the drivers of engagement until you’ve spent appropriate time on developing the Emotional Intelligence of your workforce. Doing so will have a vast impact on their lives, your business and Employee Engagement.

Remember, Emotional Intelligence isn’t about smiling; it is not about always having a happy face; it is not about holding hands and singing kumbaya.

It is a real set of skills that involves knowing ourselves – the obvious and the nuances – and imparting tools that allow us to better self-manage and self-regulate.

Best Success!

John Zettler, Director, Talent Strategy Development, Dale Carnegie Training®
Contact me at 905-826-7300 x 235 or jzettler@dalecarnegie.ca


John ZettlerWe are pleased to welcome John Zettler to the Dale Carnegie team as Director, Talent Strategy & Development.“John’s commitment and passion to the growth and development of individuals, teams and organizations is evident,” says Kevin Crone, President and Managing Partner, Dale Carnegie Business Group. “His engaging and collaborative approach along with his strong business acumen and focus on results make him a great fit for our team. We are thrilled he has decided to join us.”Read more.John Zettler brings almost 20 years of human resource experience to the challenge of better leadership we all share. He has invested his skills and energies and debated leadership with some of our country’s best leaders. Through this, he has refined a style of management that focuses on leadership conviction, authenticity and caring as the cornerstones of a more nuanced set of management skills we can all benefit from.

Instead of balance in our life, he challenges us to a new style of work life blending that both gives us:
1.    The rush of seeing our people grow and prosper in a company that truly cares about them and their dreams.
2.    The time and focus to also contribute the same level of passion to the needs of our families.

To hear the insights we captured in three minutes of his own words, click here.


Best Practices in Talent Development are rapidly evolving and becoming increasingly critical to bottom line performance. If you would like to benchmark your performance in this area, and learn the tools and insights of Canada’s top talent development practitioners, please sign up for our Bi-monthly newsletter on Accelerating Talent Development.

Simply click here and join the effort.

Assist this project by recommending a great leader or talent developer you know.


Dale Carnegie Resources

Everyday people make decisions based off of their emotions. Their levels of engagement in the workplace will be related to the emotions felt about their organization, the immediate manager, and senior management. Dale Carnegie Training has identified the specific emotional drivers of employee engagement.

Dale Carnegie Training’s White Paper ” Emotional Drivers of Employee Engagement” will help you better understand the emotions needed to drive your employees to engagement.

Employee Engagement White Paper - Dale Carnegie











Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *