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Do employees with high emotional intelligence earn higher salaries?

mentorIndividuals with high emotional intelligence are typically more self-aware, seek more feedback, and are better able to manage their emotions than those with low emotional intelligence. These characteristics would seem to be fairly valuable to one’s career. But just how valuable, in terms of long-term salary effects, are they?

Despite its intuitive appeal, there are relatively few studies of the relationship between emotional intelligence and career success. Most prior research has focused on subjective, short-term outcomes, such as job performance and job satisfaction measured at the same point in time, as opposed to studying the impact of emotional intelligence on objective data points as careers progress over time.

To address this shortcoming, Marne Arthaud-Day, associate professor of management in the K-State College of Business (along with Joseph Rode at Miami University, Aarti Ramaswami at ESSEC Business School, and Satoris Howes at Oregon State University), asked whether emotional intelligence has a meaningful impact on salary approximately 10 years after workforce entry.

During the first decade of employment, individuals are primarily concerned with developing their capabilities, establishing themselves within their organization, and learning how to work collaboratively with peers. Accordingly, Arthaud-Day and colleagues proposed that emotional intelligence should be related to one’s ability to build supportive social networks, or social capital. Theoretically, employees with higher emotional intelligence should develop stronger interpersonal relationships and leadership skills, which should in turn lead to higher financial compensation.

First, new employees with higher emotional intelligence should be more likely to develop a relationship with a mentor (either within or outside of the organization). Emotionally intelligent individuals have a higher degree of self-awareness and are more likely to seek developmental feedback. Their ability to manage emotions should also facilitate the formation of positive, interpersonal relationships, including mentoring. At the same time, their strong interpersonal skills, increased self-awareness, and willingness for self-improvement should make high EI individuals more attractive to potential mentors interested in furthering their own careers.

Second, the relationship between emotional intelligence and salary should be stronger as individuals advance to higher levels within the organization. The ability to read emotional cues is essential to navigating the political environment at higher echelons, whereas the ability to form strong interpersonal relationships helps individuals to develop the professional networks necessary for managerial success. Emotional intelligence has also been linked to leadership effectiveness, including adopting a longer-term perspective, more effective macro-level decision-making, and resilience in stressful environments.

The researchers administered an ability-based measure of emotional intelligence to 126 undergraduate business students and then collected objective data on career progression approximately 10 years later. As predicted, individuals with high emotional intelligence were more likely to have established a mentoring relationship, which in turn was positively related to salary. Emotional intelligence was also more strongly related to salary at higher compared to lower job levels. This study, published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior, and already being cited in well-known academic and practitioner journals, is significant in that it provides the first empirical evidence suggesting a causal relationship between emotional intelligence prior to workforce entry and an objective indicator of career success several years later. The findings also support the key role that emotional intelligence plays in the development of social capital in the workplace.

“One of the most exciting aspects of this study is its practical implications for business educators and managers,” Arthaud-Day said. “The good news is that empirical research suggests that emotional intelligence can be enhanced through training and development.”

This means that business schools should emphasize professional formation as well as the mastery of academic subject area content. Similarly, organizations would be well-served by assessing socio-emotional skills as well as cognitive abilities during the selection process, and then providing developmental opportunities. Mentoring provides another important avenue for organizational support.

“Our research indicates that people in mentoring relationships – regardless of origin – tend to experience higher levels of career success,” Arhaud-Day continued. “Employees high in emotional intelligence are likely to create their own mentoring relationships, but organizations can level the playing field for less emotionally intelligent workers by providing formal mentoring assignments.” 

MORE INFORMATION: Rode, J.C., Arthaud-Day, M.L., Ramaswami, A., & Howes, S. 2017. A time-lagged study of emotional intelligence and salary. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 101: 77-89.