Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

When you think of upskilling — learning new skills — at work, what comes to mind? Perhaps learning new software or working toward a certification or degree. There’s no question that many in-demand skills are technical in nature, but there’s also a critical need for what are sometimes described as “soft” skills, particularly strong emotional intelligence (EI).

EI allows us to build and maintain relationships and influence others — important skills no matter your position and area of work — and research has found people with greater EI tend to be more innovative and have higher job satisfaction than those with lower EI. Using emotional intelligence in the workplace can improve decision-making and social interactions, and enhance your ability to cope with change and stress.

The good news is that, like technical skills, soft skills such as EI can also be learned and improved.

Emotional Intelligence: What It Is

To strengthen your emotional intelligence, it’s important to know what it entails. Most definitions of EI include the following components:

  1. Perception and expression of emotion — Noticing your own emotions and picking up on the emotions of others as well as the ability to distinguish between discrete emotions.
  2. Using emotion to facilitate thought — How you incorporate emotions into your thinking processes and understand when and how emotions can be helpful for reasoning processes.
  3. Understanding and analyzing emotions —The capacity to decode emotions, make sense of their meaning, and understand how they relate to each other and change over time.
  4. Reflective regulation of emotion —An openness to all emotions and the ability to regulate your own emotions and the emotions of others to facilitate growth and insight.

Measuring Your Emotional Intelligence Skills

Do you find you relate to either of these statements?

“I want to improve my EI skills but don’t know where to start.”

“I already have strong emotional intelligence skills. This isn’t an area I need to work on.”

As is the case with any skill, we all have varying levels of aptitude when it comes to EI and may feel overwhelmed about where to begin.

One interesting study found that 95% of participants gave themselves high marks in self-awareness. However, using more empirical measures of self-awareness, the study found that only 10-15% of the cohort was truly self-aware. Consider the following characteristics typical of people with higher and lower EI skillsets as one way to better gauge your skillset:

Potential indicators of higher EI:

  • Understanding the links between your emotions and how you behave
  • Remaining calm and composed during stressful situations
  • Ability to influence others toward a common goal
  • Handling difficult people with tact and diplomacy

Potential indicators of lower EI:

  • Often feeling misunderstood
  • Getting upset easily
  • Becoming overwhelmed by emotions
  • Having problems being assertive

It’s important to note that these potential indicators can also stem from other causes and vary significantly depending on the day and situation.

Learning and Developing Emotional Intelligence

Research indicates that as little as ten hours of EI training (i.e., lectures, role-play, group discussions, readings) significantly improved people’s ability to identify and manage their emotions, and these benefits were sustained six months later.

No matter your current EI skillset, it may be helpful to try the following exercises:

  1. Notice how you respond to people — Are you judgmental or biased in your assessments of others?
  2. Practice humility — Being humble about your achievements means you can acknowledge your successes without needing to shout about them.
  3. Be honest with yourself about your strengths and vulnerabilities and consider development opportunities. Even though it might make you cringe, it’s helpful to get others’ viewpoints on your emotional intelligence. Ask people how they think you handle tricky situations and respond to the emotions of others.
  4. Think about how you deal with stressful events — Do you seek to blame others? Can you keep your emotions in check?
  5. Take responsibility for your actions and apologize when you need to.
  6. Consider how your choices can affect others — Try to imagine how they might feel before you do something that could affect them.

Interested in further increasing your EI skills? Check out the resources below to get you started.

Additional Resources

elevateU Featured Topic: Emotional Intelligence | Short videos, self-paced online courses and more

Essential Skills for Navigating Challenging Times | Free, instructor-led offering from MSU Health4U | Eight-session series begins July 12

Everything DiSC: Behavior Styles at Work | Instructor-led offering from HR Organization and Professional Development | July 20 or October 20

Creating and Sustaining a Positive Workplace | Instructor-led offering from HR Organization and Professional Development | August 25

Identify and Maximize Your Strengths | Instructor-led offering from HR Organization and Professional Development | September 21





Leadership Blog Series: The Value of Meaningful Work

Written by Sharri Margraves, Director for HR Organization and Professional Development

Have you had the opportunity to engage recently with a project or team that inspired you and connected you to the larger significance of the leadership work you do here at MSU? One of my favorite teams I had the opportunity to work with over the past couple of years is the team for “Creating and Sustaining a Respectful Workplace” which jointly developed the series of the same name. The magic in this project was how everyone involved recognized that the problem we wanted to address was complex and more extensive than any single department could attempt to resolve. Creating this series together was cathartic as well as synergistic as we leveraged our growing trust and each person’s expertise.

The series was offered through modules for all leaders at MSU because we realized administrative and academic leaders did not always understand their roles and responsibility to the organization in shaping the desired culture and being accountable for the results. Commitment to helping MSU move forward to fulfill our promise as a premier institution remains at the core of this team’s focus.

We were reflecting on the challenges of work — namely the compounding pressures of behavior issues, finding great candidates, disengagement, burnout, and how leadership impacts all of these. Participating on this organic team greatly enhanced my work life, resilience and engagement, especially during the pandemic, and reminded me of the critical importance of meaningful work.

Discover Meaningful Work for Yourself

Meaningful work does not have to be one big project; often, small opportunities can make all the difference to our work lives, help stem the “great resignation,” and enhance our collective wisdom to help make MSU a great place to work.

Recent research focused on working populations around the world found the most powerful predictors of retention, performance, engagement, resilience, and inclusion in employees’ answers to these three questions:

  1. Was I excited to work every day last week?
  2. Did I have a chance to use my strengths every day?
  3. At work, do I get a chance to do what I’m good at and something I love?

Within the “Creating and Sustaining a Respectful Workplace” collaborative team, the group saw the greater purpose behind creating resources helpful to staff and faculty throughout the organization. The personal impact of creating something that transcended our work gave many of us a renewed sense of purpose and engagement — particularly during very challenging circumstances when the work is stressful and thankless. Trust was built through a series of circumstances, and trust contributes to greater resilience and engagement.

Help Your Team Discover Meaningful Work

The truth is, we are not going to love everything about our work. However, if we can continually commit to building trust in our teams and help ourselves and others connect our work with what we love and value, we will reduce burnout and increase engagement. These sound like lofty goals, but strengthening this approach with your team can be as simple as committing to ask your direct reports and teams these four questions regularly:

  1. What did you love about last week?
  2. What did you loathe about last week?
  3. What are your priorities for the coming week?
  4. How can I best help?

I am interested in how this deceptively simple activity helps you and your teams. Feel free to use the comments section or contact me at prodev@hr.msu.edu. Looking to dive deeper into building trust and creating meaningful work? Resources to get you started are included below.

Additional Resources


Members of the Creating and Sustaining a Respectful Workplace team included representatives from:

  • Faculty and Academic Staff Development
  • Faculty and Academic Staff Affairs
  • Office of Employee Relations
  • Organization and Professional Development
  • Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion
  • Prevention Outreach and Education
  • MSU Department of Police and Public Safety
  • MSU Office of the University Ombudsperson

Buckingham, Marcus, 2022. Designing work that people love. Harvard Business Review, Vol 100 issue 3, pg. 68-75.

Gladwell, M. 2022.  “Love+Work: How to find what you love, love what you do, and do it for the rest of your life. Harvard Business Review Press.

Leadership Blog Series: Bring Meaning and Joy to the Employee Experience Through Job Crafting

Written by Sharri Margraves, Director for HR Organization and Professional Development 

Leaders who understand their role in bringing out the best in their employees make a significant impact on the employee experience, with a positive employee experience now requiring increased effort to recruit, retain and engage. Employees have become less accepting of doing things that may not make sense to them (what is the purpose?), and they will leave organizations to find a better fit.

Job crafting is a practical way to influence the engagement of employees to respond to organizational change more positively, be happier and have greater meaning in all the roles they perform. In turn, the positive experience can enhance the level of innovation, care, service, and productivity for clients, students, and customers.

Think about the explosion in the “craft” economy: beer, distilled spirits, bespoke “fill-in-the-blank.” That tailored experience makes us feel good and allows us to feel greater control and empowerment over some aspects of our lives— especially important when we live in a world that is anything but predictable.

What is job crafting?

The concept of job crafting isn’t all that different from other aspects of the craft economy. Job crafting is an aspect of empowerment that helps employees tailor their work to what brings them joy, adds to their experience and enhances the organization. According to research conducted over the past twenty years, job crafting — in the forms of task, relationship, and cognitive crafting — may be a critical element of engagement and job satisfaction, particularly in today’s workplace.

Task crafting – Changing up responsibilities. Improving the steps, timing, or sequencing of the tasks that make up your job to improve it in some way.

Example: Palmer, a customer service specialist, thought there could be an easier way to get the necessary information from customers. They set up a simple power form to capture key information in a consistent manner. Now there is a simple tracking system with all the key information leading to better resolution with improved response time, enhancing both the employee and customer experience.

Relationship crafting – Changing up interactions. Building relationships around aspects that are important to you with people you would not normally work with.

Example: Jody, a project lead, sought out other employees who were interested in mentoring new employees. She was engaged with the idea and participated in the task force which helped her connect with others from across the organization.

Cognitive crafting – Changing your mindset. Reframing the work to see how the value of the work contributes positively to the organization, the people, or greater society.

Example: Parker, a custodian, understood that his job involved a lot of repetition and was not glamorous. However, if he did not do his job, students could become ill or injured, might feel down about the environment at school or believe they were unimportant to the leaders at their school. By maintaining a safe and pleasant environment, he adjusts his thinking to focus on his incredible influence on the health and well-being of the students — contributing toward their success and helping them to graduate.

The leader’s role in job crafting

As a leader, you can initiate and facilitate the job crafting concept, asking employees for their thoughts and ideas. Design jobs (and job descriptions) that leave room for crafting. Demonstrate an openness to feedback and new ideas. Often, we overlook the true nature of our work and the meaning and joy we can derive from it. A little encouragement from you — and modeling the way — may just make the difference.

Leaders are in a unique position to not only foster beneficial job crafting in their employees but to practice crafting in their own roles to potentially impact numerous employees. Making small changes to your own job can have larger impacts on your organization as well.

Find additional resources to get you started below and reach out to HR’s Organization and Professional Development department at prodev@hr.msu.edu if you’d like further ideas. After you’ve had a chance to introduce job crafting to your own position and team, I’d love to hear your feedback. Contact me directly at margrave@hr.msu.edu to let me know how job crafting is working for you.

Recommended Resources

Note: all names used above are pseudonyms.


Carucci, R., Shappell, J. (2020). How to job craft as a team. https://hbr.org/2020/03/how-to-job-craft-as-a-team?ab=at_art_art_1x1

Dutton, J.E., Wrzesniewski, A., (2020). What job crafting looks like. Harvard Business Review. March 12, 2020. https://hbr.org/2020/03/what-job-crafting-looks-like

Wrzesniewski, A., LoBuglio, N., Dutton, J., and Berg, J.M., (2013). Job crafting and cultivating positive meaning and identity in work. Advances in Positive Organizational Psychology, Volume 1, 281–302.

Turn the Job You Have Into the Job You Want with Job Crafting

What if your supervisor told you that you don’t have to do the job you were hired to do?

We often think of our job as being constrained within the rigid framework of our position description, but these days, with rapid change and shifting expectations now the norm, many roles can’t adapt quickly enough to remain relevant…nor to keep employees inspired and fulfilled at work.

When it comes to work, the way to find fulfillment may be to change how you work, not what you do. Every one of us has our own ideas, natural strengths and a desire to learn new things. Job crafting — a mindset and skill — allows you to shape and redefine your current role in ways that can foster job satisfaction, increased engagement, and greater resilience and thriving at work.

What job crafting is (and what it isn’t)

Traditional job design theory focuses on a top-down process of supervisors designing jobs for their employees. Oftentimes, employees are naturally motivated to customize their roles to better fit their motives, strengths and passions. Job crafting is a way to engage with this process with purpose and intention, utilizing opportunities to actively adjust your tasks and interactions with others.

You still must contribute toward your organization achieving its objectives. You still must complete your work in order to get paid. However, with job crafting, your work will feel more meaningful.

Job crafting is not a one-time event

Job crafting is a fluid process that you engage in over time. It typically falls into three stages.

  1. You’re motivated to craft your job due to one or more factors. For example,
    • a desire for more control of your job or greater meaning for your work
    • a need for meaningful interactions with the people who benefit from your work
    • fulfillment of your passion for an occupation other than your current role
  2. You identify any available crafting opportunities and enact one or more ways of crafting your job, actively adjusting one or more of the following areas:
    • Processes: the number, type or nature of your work tasks
    • People: your interactions with others
    • Purpose: your perception of your work
  3. The crafting techniques you employed then lead to associated outcomes, including:
    • Changes to the meaning of your work and your work identity
      • alignment with personal expectations
      • fulfillment of a valued identity
    • Positive experiences
      • achievement
      • enjoyment
      • meaning
    • Resilience
      • increased competence
      • personal growth
      • ability to cope with future adversity

The 3 Ps: Process, People and Purpose

When job crafting, you’ll want to spend time focusing on step #2 above, particularly taking time to examine if and how you can adjust the “three Ps” of Process, People and Purpose.


Have you ever complained about not enjoying your job and received a response along the lines of, “Of course you don’t like it. That’s why it’s called work?” Yes, there will likely always be aspects of your job that feel boring or mundane, but having a negative attitude toward your work quickly leads to feelings of burnout and disappointment.

Instead, seek out the purpose in your work. Try taking the initiative to bring an exciting new task — no matter how large or small — into your work.

Consider: How do I use my strengths to bring more of myself into my work?


Although you typically can’t choose your coworkers, you may still be able to re-craft the quality of your relationships with them. One idea? Share a story of gratitude to build connectivity. Write an email to a colleague describing a memory of a time they used their strengths and skills to make a special contribution to your work or your organization. Be sure to include a lot of details.

Consider: How can I improve my relationships at work so they are more inspiring? How can I interact more with colleagues who inspire me, rather than detract from my quality of life?


Don’t wait for someone else — whether it’s your supervisor or your stakeholders — to give you a sense of purpose at work. Purpose is about understanding your impact on others, and developing a story about why you do what you do. Your purpose is a story you tell yourself, and you have the power to craft that story.

For each of your work tasks, ask yourself, “Why do I do this?” You may find you aren’t inspired by your answers. If that’s the case, try to personalize the purpose of each task to discover its larger meaning and purpose.

Consider: What story do I tell myself about why I do my job? How can I make the narrative more inspiring?

Discover the value and meaning of your work

You may assume work satisfaction is primarily about what you do, but more often than not, it’s also related to how you do it. Job crafting can help you learn to see value and meaning in all aspects of your work.

Annie McKee, author of How to Be Happy at Work, explains, “Happiness at work comes from the inside out. It’s something we create for ourselves. A lot of people will lose or leave a job and go somewhere else and find that they’re just as unhappy.”

Take the time to apply job crafting principles, and you may discover that your current job offers greater meaning and satisfaction than you thought. Resources to help you get started with this process are included below, and MSU HR’s Organization and Professional Development department can also offer further guidance at prodev@hr.msu.edu.

Recommended Resources

elevateU Monthly Featured Topic: Job Crafting

Job Crafting Questionnaire

OPD Personal Development Courses

YouTube Video: Job Crafting