Article: Are our employees emotionally intelligent?

Life @ Work

Are our employees emotionally intelligent?

With AI becoming a strong force of change in the business world, can preparing our workforce to build emotional intelligence help them contribute more in an increasingly digitized world?
Are our employees emotionally intelligent?

The advent of the digital age has had a ripple effect on how businesses operate, spreading through the length and breadth of companies and reshaping processes in its wake. But such an impact is not only limited to how businesses work, but rather transcends organizational boundaries to reshape the economy at large. Technologies such as AI and automation are slowly becoming an important part of modern-day companies with projections stating their rate of adoption across business processes is only going to go up. This has been the result of successive innovations and technological growth.

For companies, such a market disruption has resulted in a fairly rapid transition of skill considerations. Skillsets, mostly technical in nature, that were once considered indispensable are being fast replaced. Accessing the right talent has become a top priority for companies. Or as a recent IBM report notes that “one of the greatest threats facing organizations today is the talent shortage.”

What is creating such a skill shortage?

Looking at the skills gap given the ensuing tech adoption, led by AI and automation today, it’s important to note that such a gap occurs both in the case of technical skills that make working in a digital economy possible and in case of other “softer skills” which often get ignored but whose importance is bound to grow in a heavily digitized world. Chief among such skill consideration is the requirement on Emotional Intelligence (EI) among the workforce of tomorrow.

EI and its importance in case of an AI-driven future

Emotional Intelligence encompasses a whole set of skills that show emotional and cognitive depth in handling often complex and unstructured territories of business processes. With the potential of AI to slowly automate much of the regular mundane aspects of current jobs, employees are freed up for more transformational and strategic work. To truly add value in such times, having a higher EI would help employees relate to customers better and tweak internal functioning to maximize customer value.

Skills like persuasion, social understanding, and empathy will soon become an important part of businesses. So much so that it might become what differentiates a successful company from one that’s not in times where artificial intelligence and machine learning take over our other tasks. Unfortunately, these human-oriented skills have generally been viewed as a second priority in terms of training and education.

Skills like persuasion, social understanding, and empathy will soon become an important part of businesses

And executives and business leaders are already waking to this business need. Over 76 percent of executives in a recent Capgemini report1 on EI agreed that AI and automation will increase the demand for EI skills as employees will have a more client/people-facing role. This pace of change is dependent upon the rate of AI adoption but looking at companies today, the study reveals that many lag behind in focusing to develop EI among their employees.

To begin with, there is an explicit focus among companies to focus on specific positions where they have deemed that EI is currently required. Although automation and AI will impact all career levels, the Capgemini report notes that organizations currently focus more on building EI skills at senior levels than at non-supervisory levels. It's important to note that for most organizations, EI remains less of a focus area and many do not adequately assess or hire non-supervisory employees based on their EI skills either. Neither do they conduct enough training in building EI skills for employees across grades, and particularly for those in non-supervisory roles. This, when employers believe that over 76 percent for their employees will have to develop EI skills as they will have a more client/people-facing role, shows that although many have recognized the importance of EI, there remains a lag in its development among employees.

A Mckinsey report2 assessing the impact of AI shows that for most employees an AI-driven future of work means that they will need to completely evolve their skills base. Human job roles will require employees to do more tasks that require emotional intelligence skills which cannot be automated.

As businesses converge on leveraging potential benefits out of techs like AI and automation, it’ll be a skilled workforce—with not just domain-specific knowledge but rather a holistic skillset, including high EI. To have a workforce with high EI means better customer value and understanding of the markets in a better way to create profitable ventures. And for this to happen, such skills must not remain locked in the hand (minds rather) of just senior-level leaders.

EI offers concrete benefits to employees and organizations in terms of higher productivity, higher job satisfaction, and lower attrition among others. However, organizations have yet to tune their hiring, learning, and performance management to this emerging skillset and addressing this gap becomes an important challenge in front of employers and HR professionals alike.

Part of a larger skills shift

The growing need of EI in the world that is fast being dominated by tech comes as much needed a way of looking back at the importance of human talent. The concerns of employability and job loss under the threat of such technologies, although not unfounded, often paint a picture of heavy displacement of human capital for its machine counterparts. But it is important to note that as tech evolves, so does the need to have qualified individuals with the right skills within the company. Advanced technologies require people who understand how they work and can innovate, develop, and adapt them. To do this, employee require both a mixture of “soft” and “hard” skills.

Emotional intelligence offers concrete benefits to employees and organizations in terms of higher productivity, higher job satisfaction, and lower attrition, among others. However, organizations have yet to tune their hiring, learning, and performance management to this emerging skillset

A McKinsey research suggests that through 2030, the time spent using advanced technological skills will increase by 50 percent in the United States and by 41 percent in Europe. Thus having basic digital literacy is a key part of solving the skill gap equation. The report goes on to note that in the case of IT and programming skills, the growth in their demand in developed markets of the west could grow as much as 90 percent between 2016 and 2030. In the case of Indian companies too, a similar trend, albeit to a lesser extent is noted.  

However, there is also a significant need for everyone to develop basic digital skills for the new age of automation. But while basic digital skills are the second-fastest-growing segment other studies find that little can be achieved with just technical skills only. They need to be tempered with the right EI and other skills like complex problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity to make employees truly productive. With machines growing intelligent enough to automate most of what employees do in a day, employees need to grow and develop other skills that helps them add value. And sooner companies begin taking note of emotional intelligence, the better prepared they are to make the best of an increasingly automated and digitized future.


1. Emotional Intelligence - The essential skillset for the age of AI-Capgemini Research Institute

2. Skill shift automation and the future of the workforce- Mckinsey Global Institute

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Topics: Life @ Work, HR Technology

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