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The Value of Emotionally Intelligent People Managers

A woman and child working on a laptop at home.

​Two associate directors at Villanova University discussed the link between emotionally intelligent leadership, inclusive work/family culture and overall employee well-being on Oct. 26 at the SHRM INCLUSION 2022 conference in San Diego.Bethany Adams, SHRM-SCP

Bethany Adams, SHRM-SCP, has more than 15 years of experience in HR and education. Before she worked in academia, Adams served as an HR director. While attaining her master's degree, She studied emotional intelligence, and the topic quickly resonated with her.

"This is partly because I consider myself to be a pretty emotional person," Adams said. "I was never in the mindset of shutting off my emotions at work. I brought my whole self, including all my emotional baggage into the workplace. And I found that it made me a better leader … because I was using emotional intelligence."

Heather J. Cluley is an expert in the realm of work/life balance. She has conducted research that delves into employees' experiences at the work/family interface as well as the career and organizational contexts that shape those experiences.

"People managers really set the stage for inclusive work/family cultures," Cluley said. "At the higher level, leaders adopt these policies and recommend them, but it's our everyday people managers who make us feel included and welcome through their supportive behaviors."

What Supportive Behaviors Look Like

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage your own emotions while also recognizing and influencing the emotions of those around you. However, it cannot occur without emotional support.Heather J. Cluley, Ph.D.

For example, a full-time employee who is also a parent to her children and caregiver to her mother could be having trouble maintaining a healthy work/life balance. An emotionally intelligent people manager will listen to her personal needs without judgment and offer possible solutions.

"It's difficult to show emotional support if you're not aware of the challenges facing an employee," Adams said. "A lot of work/family challenges that happen in the workplace can be aided by emotionally intelligent leaders."

Cluley added, "Work/family conflicts and decisions are emotional, so show awareness through empathy."

Be a Role Model

Managers must also be role models. They could demonstrate effective behaviors in how to juggle work and nonwork responsibilities or how to be successful during and outside of work. Cluley explained that this advice exemplifies effective leadership.

"Supervisors who don't show good role modeling may have a very work-centric identity," she said. "They don't mean to be not balanced. But overall, they are letting their values guide them."

Adams said it is OK if managers are more work-centric but that they should exercise vulnerability and talk to their team about the values guiding their decisions.

"You have to be present with your own values, aware of how they're impacting the choices that you're making," Adams said. "Use those values to manage your own responses."

Be Creative

Since 2020, many organizations have become more creative in the work/family management of their employees with the rise in hybrid workplaces and remote work. But some companies are steadfast in having employees in physical workplaces.

Cluley said being creative and experimental with this balance is the recommended path forward. Supervisors who exhibit creative work/life management:

  • Think about how the work can be organized to jointly benefit employees and the company.
  • Are creative in reallocating job duties to help the department better work as a team.
  • Ask for suggestions to make it easier for employees to balance work and nonwork demands.

These tactics show an ability to have a positive influence to empower others and showcase emotional reasoning that leads to expansive thinking, Cluley said.

"A supervisor can think about ways that benefit the employee and company," she explained. "Emotional reasoning contributes to creative solutions."

The Importance of Instrumental Support

Supervisors who are instrumentally supportive give time and resources to their employees. This allows workers to:

  • Depend on their supervisor to help with scheduling conflicts when needed.
  • Rely on their supervisor to make sure their work responsibilities are handled when they encounter unanticipated family demands.
  • Trust their supervisor to creatively solve conflicts between work and nonwork obligations.

Adams said instrumental support helps companies get work done. It helps expand ideas and empower others to come up with effective solutions and leads to better work outcomes because employees feel more ingrained in the solutions.

"We know these behaviors are effective beyond the work/family realm in just helping our employees meet the needs of their organization," Cluley said. "If supervisors are doing these things well, then they are helping create that inclusive environment through the work/family programming."


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