The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in the Future Workforce


The world is changing rapidly and how work gets done is evolving. While we have witnessed this evolution over time, the critical nature of emotional intelligence became front and center during the pandemic. To begin developing this essential quality in the future workforce, schools can leverage social-emotional learning to teach “soft skills” such as collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving, and conflict resolution.

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to manage one’s own emotions and recognize the emotions of their peers. While the study of emotional intelligence can be traced back to 1964, it was Daniel Goleman’s 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, that brought the concept onto the world stage. In his book, Goleman outlines five key traits of a person with strong emotional intelligence skills:


A key first step toward emotional intelligence is to be fully cognizant of one’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, and values. Self-awareness allows for better decision making and recognition of how actions affect others.


Feeling a range of emotions is normal; how we react to them is what is important. Controlling negative feelings and impulses helps people adapt to changing circumstances that are beyond their control.

Social Skills

Strong social skills, such as the ability to communicate effectively, help emotionally intelligent people improve relationships and build trust among peers.


A logical result of self-awareness is recognizing emotions in others and understanding their needs. Empathy leads to acceptance of others’ viewpoints and helps hone social and emotional skills, such as conflict resolution.


People who have mastered the above skills are more likely to be productive, effective at their work, and inspirational to their peers.

How Emotional Intelligence Applies to Roles Across an Organization

In the past, strong social and emotional skills within the workplace were most in-demand for life coaches and counselors. Today, emotional intelligence affects all roles within an organization, including:

Individual Contributors

Employees in all types of organizations must be able to fluidly adapt to change and bring their ideas to the table in a collaborative effort with their colleagues, requiring developed self-awareness and self-regulation skills.

Customer-Facing Roles

Practicing strong social and empathy skills can help customer-facing professionals connect with customers on an emotional level, which in turn can strengthen the customer’s relationship with the company and retain their business.


A leader who displays a high level of emotional intelligence can help their team feel valued, trusted, and included, resulting in a more dedicated workforce. Mastery of motivation, empathy, and self-regulation skills are a hallmark trait of every great business leader.

How Emotional Intelligence Prepares Students for the Workplace

Emotional intelligence is and will increasingly continue to be an important asset for students who are transitioning into the workforce. In fact, according to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), which analyzed the results of employer surveys spanning back to 2009, skills learned from social-emotional learning (SEL), such as communication, self-management, problem solving, collaborating with teams, and the ability to make ethical decisions, are a top priority for companies that are recruiting new hires. Let’s revisit the core emotional intelligence competencies listed above and the key skills they help foster in the workforce:

  • Self-awareness – Flexibility, innovation, creativity, confidence, openness to growth
  • Self-regulation – Works well under pressure, time management, budgeting, can work independently, attention to detail
  • Social skills – Strong written and oral communication skills, conflict resolution, meeting clients’ needs, works well with others
  • Empathy – Ability to work with colleagues and clients from varying cultural backgrounds, respects individual differences, supervisory skills
  • Motivation – Integrity and honesty, ethical decision making, ability to analyze information from different sources, critical thinking and problem solving, civic engagement

A Social-Emotional Learning Curriculum to Foster Emotional Intelligence

Another key finding of CASEL’s review of employer surveys is that emotional intelligence skills are not only in high demand, but they’re also the most difficult to find in prospective candidates. This lack of inherent social-emotional skills in younger people can be attributed to an increase in divorce rates of parents, two parents who work full time, isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and increased use of social media, which requires a different set of skills for interacting with others. Implementing a social-emotional learning curriculum within educational institutions is more important than ever for preparing students for success in their future careers.

Learn more by downloading the 2021 Complete Guide to Social-Emotional Learning today.

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