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Exploring Emotional Demands at Work

What are emotion skills?

A number of emotion skills have been found to be important for coping with life and work (Brackett et al., 2011, Fernandez-Berrocal & Extremera 2006, Schutte 2013, Van Rooy & Viswesvaran 2004). The skills fall into the following areas: identifying emotion in oneself, identifying emotion in others, expressing emotion, managing emotion in oneself, managing emotions in others, using emotions to facilitate decision making and understanding emotion.

The term emotional intelligence is often used to encapsulate these skills as many of these skills involve thinking about emotions. There are a number of approaches to Emotional Intelligence in the research literature. The first of these is to describe emotional intelligence as a cognitive ability (e.g. Mayer et al 2008), rather like intelligence. Under this approach, it is possible to measure how good people are at emotion skills. A second approach, called Trait Emotional Intelligence, describes Emotional Intelligence as a perception of self-efficacy, or how good people see themselves at these skills based on their everyday behaviour (e.g. Petrides 2010). A third approach takes a mixed view and some authors include social intelligence skills as well as emotional intelligence skills (e.g. Bar-on 2006, Goleman 1996, Schutte 1998). Mikolajczak (2009) has proposed a unifying approach suggesting that emotion skills cut across knowledge about emotion, how good people are at implementing emotion skills and the frequency with which emotion skills are used in practice.

Emotional intelligence in emotionally demanding professions

Work-based stress and burnout are widely recognised as important problems at work among a range of public service professions including: teachers, police officers, nurses and social workers (McQueen, 2004; Bennett, Evans & Tattersall 1993; Kyriacou, 2001; Burke, 1994).

A number of social work academics (e.g. Howe 2008, Morrison 2007) have made a theoretical case for the importance of Emotional Intelligence in social work arguing that Emotional Intelligence has potential to relate to five core social work tasks: engagement of users; assessment and observation; decision making; collaboration and co-operation and dealing with stress. Other areas of practice include the need to contain emotionally charged situations with service users and use reflection to manage the influence of social worker emotion on the assessment of cases. Such areas of practice suggest that Emotional Intelligence skills would be important for social work and Kinman and Grant's (2010) study in social work students also lend support.

Can emotion skills be learned?

As there is general consensus in the literature that Emotional Intelligence skills are related to less stress, better relationships, better physical and mental health a logical next step would be to see if Emotional Intelligence skills could be improved through training. There is less research evidence on the efficacy of Emotional Intelligence training and what exists does not provide a clear picture about what issues Emotional Intelligence training influences (See Schutte 2013 for a review). The methodology used has also made it difficult to establish cause and effect.  The Emotional Intelligence and Social Work study investigated whether Emotional Intelligence training had an effect on key work outcomes such as burnout and stress. 


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