The Role of Emotional Intelligence in Motivating Employees

The Role of Emotional Intelligence in Motivating Employees

Frederick Herzberg researched diverse ways to encourage employees to complete tasks (2003). An organization’s goal is to get employees to do their job. There are several benefits from organizations that build a space where employees feel motivated to perform their job.  Herzberg (2003) offered the KITA—Kick In The Ass concept. KITA illustrated how an individual could be inspired to move. There are positive and negative KITA strategic methods. Physical and psychological abuse are negative KITA, while incentives and rewards are positive KITA. KITA is effective but not sustainable (Herzberg, 2003). Things will get done, but the individual is not motivated to continue (Jumping for the Jelly Beans (1 of 2), 2007). Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory discovered a dichotomy that analyzed what makes people satisfied and dissatisfied at work.

Herzberg (2003) was interested in what motivated employees. He interviewed several employees to discover what caused job satisfaction and dissatisfaction. His theory revealed two needs humans must have satisfied—essential and emotional (Herzberg, 2003). His research enabled him to deduce distinct factors leading to job satisfaction and dissatisfaction. He called these motivators and hygiene factors, respectively.

Motivators (as known as intrinsic motivators or satisfiers) are the forces within a company that will encourage employees to continue performing their duties. They fill the emotional needs of an employee. Intrinsic motivators contribute to the employee’s overall job satisfaction. Motivating factors contribute to employees’ satisfaction by fulfilling their need for meaning and personal growth. People can fulfill this satisfaction through achievement, recognition, work, responsibility, and advancement. By improving motivating factors, job satisfaction increased.

Hygiene (as known as extrinsic motivators or dissatisfiers) represents the essential needs an employee seeks to fulfill. They are more tangible than intrinsic motivators. These factors describe the employee’s work environment. If hygiene issues are mishandled, they can minimize satisfaction. Conversely, hygiene factors mollify when reasonable considerations have been made. Hygiene factors include salary, working conditions, interpersonal relationships, company policies, and supervision.

Implications of Emphasizing Motivators or Hygiene Factors

One of the most insightful statements in Herzberg’s Theory is the opposite of job dissatisfaction is no job dissatisfaction, and the opposite of satisfaction is no satisfaction (Herzberg, 2003). Neglecting motivating factors does not decrease job satisfaction, but their presence can increase intrinsic attitudes and motivation of employees significantly. With the absence of motivators, employees will find themselves seeking fulfillment. The motivation-hygiene theory suggests job enrichment provides an opportunity for employees to grow. Stimulating and rewarding work motivates employees to work harder and better to perfect their skills. This can lead to innovative ideas, which could lead to higher profits. Unfulfilled employees will look for other opportunities to fill the void. Additionally, with an emphasis on hygiene factors, individuals may expect incentives and salary increases over time, thus nullifying the motivator (Byrne, 2006).

If organizations focused on motivators while ignoring hygiene factors, job dissatisfaction would increase (Alrawahi et al., 2020). Hygiene factors have no positive impact on job satisfaction. But, their absence can lead to dissatisfaction. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory proposes that humans must have their most basic needs met before they can be motivated to pursue wants and desires (Kinicki & Williams, 2018). One could argue that Herzberg’s hygiene factors map with Maslow’s physiological, safety/security, and social/love needs, and Maslow’s esteem and self-actualization needs fall into the category of motivating factors.

Physiological needs are the most basic physical needs that an individual has. Employees must afford their basic physiological needs—food, shelter, and clothing. Without a salary that enables them to provide for themselves and their family, an employee can become dissatisfied. Building interpersonal relationships with teammates permits an employee to find value in coming to work daily. Conversely, an organization with strict company policies and a toxic work environment discourages employees.

Creating a Motivating Workplace

We have learned that leaders and managers play distinct roles in an organization. Leaders focus on the long-term and outward-facing goals, while managers are more internally focused—concentrating on executing the long-term goals set in place by leaders. Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory suggests that leaders and managers have the power to cultivate an environment for employees that will inspire their job performance (Herzberg, 2003).

Leaders are in a position where they can affect company policies, work conditions, and advancement. Company policies are one of the extrinsic factors that contribute to employee dissatisfaction. Leaders should routinely evaluate their policies to ensure they are not unreasonably strict, issue harsh penalties, and align with societal views of normalcy (Syptak et al., 1999). Leaders should also appraise the company’s working conditions. Technology refreshes, building maintenance, and space allocation are some environmental conditions leaders can maintain to satisfy employees. Motivated employees look for opportunities to advance. Leaders can support employees by providing positions or title advancements to help propel them forward (Syptak et al., 1999).

In addition to the steps leaders can take, managers also have the opportunity to motivate employees. They have a more direct role in building a motivating environment. Since managers are involved in more of the daily operations, they can set and monitor goals for their staff. Managers can adjust the work objectives to provide the employee with exciting and rewarding work. A manager’s role requires them to have regular and prompt feedback to their employees. Feedback helps the manager determine if the employee feels challenged enough or if the employee is overloaded (Syptak et al., 1999). An effective leader or manager recognizes good work and offers praise.

Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

An emotional intelligence person knows how to identify, understand, and manage their emotions. Emotional intelligence also means that an individual understands and monitors others’ emotions (Salovey & Mayer, 1990). With emotional intelligence, individuals can effectively control their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to guide their actions. Goleman (1998) conceptualized emotional intelligence as a business paradigm. In his article, he stated that an effective leader has a high emotional intelligence capacity. There are four components to Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence Model: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management (Williams, 2017). Emotional intelligence becomes increasingly significant the higher one mores in the organizational hierarchy (Goleman, 1998).

Self-aware individuals are internally self-aware and externally self-aware (Eurich, 2021). Internal self-awareness means recognizing how their feelings affect their relationships, job performance, and actions. External self-awareness means being aware of how their emotions affect other people. As a result, these people can understand other people’s points of view. For example, a self-aware leader or manager can accurately assess an employee based on their understanding (Kunalic et al., 2016). Since a self-aware individual is in tune with their emotions, they are more likely to recognize any unconscious bias toward an employee. Otherwise, if the manager has biases that aren’t identified, their assessment may be skewed (Wittmer & Hopkins, 2018).

Emotional intelligent people can self-management their emotions–meaning they can control impulsive reactions. Leaders who regulate themselves effectively seldom make snap decisions, lash out, or prejudge individuals (Mind Tools Content Team, n.d.). Even in constantly changing environments, an emotionally intelligent person can maintain honesty and integrity to meet goals (Kinicki & Williams, 2018; Williams, 2017). Self-management people are reasonable and create an environment of objectivity (Goleman, 1998). A self-aware leader or manager who is open to change can appreciate the differences between themselves and their staff (Wittmer & Hopkins, 2018). Objectivity is vital when fostering a diverse workplace.

Recognizing and understanding the emotions of others are essential components of social awareness. A manager who shows empathy towards their staff also detects emotional cues and demonstrates sensitivity to others’ perspectives. These traits can earn loyalty among the team (Mind Tools Content Team, n.d.; Serrat, 2017). Also, socially aware managers and leaders are service-oriented (Serrat, 2017). They can read situations and anticipate a customer’s needs (Riggio, 2008). A social-aware manager considers the organizational, political, and cultural climate when measuring the customer or team’s needs to determine a solution (Serrat, 2017).

Relationship management is the natural next step for a manager who can anticipate the needs of their team and customers. Clear and effective communication allows a manager to catalyze change within the workplace (Serrat, 2017). Managers with good social awareness and relationship management can safely manage, resolve, and communicate conflicts tactfully. These conflict resolution skills are useful when diverse perspectives conflict between the customer, team, or management. Arm with these characteristics, managers can change the status quo to advocate for change (Serrat, 2017).

Emotional intelligence is an essential element of job performance and job satisfaction (Welch, 2020). Research has shown that emotionally intelligent leaders are effective (Grove, 2006, as cited in Riggio, 2008). Riggio (2008) study suggested that emotional skills were related to effectiveness and could be improved with training. Finally, an emotionally intelligent leader can discern the most effective leadership style to accommodate a diverse team (Welch, 2020). Since they have a keen social awareness and external self-awareness, managers can match specific behaviors with the particular style that would best serve the employee (Welch, 2020).


Motivation starts from leadership and trickles down to the employee. There are several ways that an employee can be motivated to accomplish a task. However, it would behoove an organization to identify motivating and hygiene factors with their teams. Motivating factors that increase job satisfaction are work itself, achievement, recognition, responsibility, and advancement. Company policies, supervision, salary, interpersonal relations, and working conditions contribute to dissatisfaction—hygiene factors. There should be a delicate balance between motivating and hygiene factors. Job performance and job satisfaction are reliant on maintaining a proper balance. Employees will not be fulfilled if the balance is skewed in favor of hygiene factors. Employees could feel entitled to incentives if the balance is skewed in favor of motivators. An emotionally intelligent leader or manager can navigate this balance by being self-aware, self-managed, socially aware, and managing relationships. Emotional intelligence is essential to creating a diverse and motivating workplace environment.


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