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Employee growth

Emotionally intelligent behaviour by supervisors boosts employee creativity and motivation, finds study co-authored by Dr Jochen Menges of Cambridge Judge Business School.

A smiling businesswoman in a yellow shirt smiles at her laptop.
Jochen Menges.
Dr Jochen Menges

Supervisors who demonstrate emotionally intelligent behaviour are linked to creativity and innovation among employees, finds a study involving nearly 15,000 workers co-authored by Jochen Menges of Cambridge Judge Business School.

The study concluded that emotionally intelligent behaviour (EIB) by supervisors is important for companies because it contributes to building opportunities for growth and positive experiences for employees, which in turn predict their creativity at work.

“Creativity is crucial for individual job security and earning potential, as jobs requiring creativity are least likely to become computerised,” says the study published in the Journal of Creative Behavior.

The study defines emotional intelligence as the ability to perceive, use and manage emotions, including sensitivity to nuances in others’ emotions; creativity is defined as the production of novel and useful ideas by an individual or group of people working together.

The study is based on a survey of 14,645 working adults in all 50 of the United States, from all levels of organisational hierarchy and with an average age of 41.

Participants rated the EIB of their immediate supervisor based on several factors: perceiving emotions of others (“My supervisor realises when people are dissatisfied at work”), using emotions for problem-solving (“My supervisor helps people find ways to channel their dissatisfaction in to making a productive change”), understanding emotions (how the supervisor’s decisions and behaviour affect how others feel at work), and managing emotions (helping others feel better when they are upset or disappointed).

Participants were then asked about their opportunities to grow at work and how their job made them feel. They were asked to enter a single descriptive word in response to various questions (such as “happy”, “anxious,” or “overworked”), and then to rank how they felt in the previous three months among 23 common emotions including “proud,” “interested”, “respected”, “confident” and “interested”.

Finally, they were asked about their creativity and innovation through such questions as whether they “contributed original ways to achieve goals” or “came up with new ideas to improve efficiency without being asked”.

“What we found was that when people described how they felt about their job in their own words, employees whose supervisors show high emotional intelligence report being primarily happy in their work,” says Jochen Menges, University Lecturer in Organisational Behaviour at Cambridge Judge Business School. “In contrast, those employees whose supervisors show little emotional intelligence say they feel frustrated and stressed at work.”

The study concludes that supervisors who aim to encourage and enable creativity among employees should recognise the role played by emotions – including excitement of initial idea generation, anxiety of facing an open-ended problem, frustration at obstacles along the way, and pride in final achievement.

“Supervisors who acknowledge that emotions matter in the creative process will be more likely to be mindful of employee emotions and create an environment in which employees experience opportunities to grow and develop their skills,” the study says.

Organisations should also recognise the important role played by emotionally intelligent behaviour by supervisors in employee creativity and growth, as this is important for work outcomes. The authors suggest that training in emotional intelligence for supervisors is one route companies and other organisations could take, but that such training needs to be carefully targeted to be most effective. The study in the Journal of Creative Behavior – entitled “Supervisor Emotionally Intelligent Behavior and Employee Creativity” – is co-authored by Zorana Ivcevic of Yale University, Julia Moeller of the University of Leipzig, Jochen Menges of Cambridge Judge Business School and the University of Zurich, and Marc Brackett of Yale University.