Stress is a career-killer

Aug 10 2007 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Emotional intelligence, rather than cognitive intelligence, could well be the key to a successful career. But new research suggests that stress can damage emotional intelligence and with it, workplace effectiveness.

A study by Multi-Health Systems, a North Tonawanda, N.Y.-based company that provides psychological assessments for the workplace, examined the impact of stress on an employee's emotional intelligence.

What the study found s that when employees are stressed, their emotional intelligence Ė in other words, their ability to monitor and interpret their emotions and the emotions of those around them - is stunted.

According to Dr. Stein, CEO of Multi-Health Systems, strong emotional intelligence can help build positive relationships with colleagues and improve performance, a combination that is an ideal formula for workplace success.

"IQ is what gets you hired - it's what gets you in the door. EI is what helps you move up the ladder," Stein said.

Other studies have suggested that that managers who have higher levels of emotional intelligence report less subjective stress and demonstrate better management performance, Stein added.

And if stress prevents us from being aware of and controlling our emotions, getting along with others, adapting to changes and maintaining a positive mood, our EI is likely to suffer.

Moreover, half the 1,014 employees surveyed (53 percent) said that stress damages their relationships with co-workers and a similar proportion (47 percent) said that it often affects their ability to make decisions in the workplace and harms their productivity.

Overall, some four out of 10 working Americans (42 percent) say they frequently experience stress in the workplace, either as a result of work or personal experiences, with more than half complaining that this is taking a physical, psychological and behavioural toll.

More than half (54 per cent) report physical symptoms ranging from headaches, clenched jaws, indigestion, constipation or diarrhoea to fatigue or chronic insomnia.

A similar proportion say that stress in the workplace makes them impatient, procrastinate, quick to argue, withdrawn or isolated, while psychological effects include irritability with co-workers, defensiveness, anger, mood swings and feelings of helplessness.

What's more, the poll found that more than half of working Americans (55 percent) don't make any connection between their emotional intelligence and professional success, while half are also unaware of the damage to EI that stress can cause.

Yet a third admitted that stress has prevented them from being recognized for their contribution at work and a quarter that it has actively hampered their career progression.

But Stein said that despite this, EI skills could always be improved.

"The good news is, you can learn or improve your emotional skills at any time in your life - even in the presence of stress.

"Unlike IQ, a person's EI is not set in stone. If individuals monitor and interpret their emotions and the emotions of others, then apply that knowledge to better succeed in dealing with the world around them, they have a better chance of experiencing workplace success."