Study suggests structural issues and economic turbulence have lowered morale compared to other professions

The HR function has seen a rapid decline in its scores for emotional intelligence compared to other professions – which indicates low morale and disengagement, according to a new study.

Business psychology consultancy JCA Global – which collected data from around 2,200 HR professionals between 2007 and 2015 and compared it with scores from more than 24,000 respondents from other sectors – revealed that despite HR scoring better than most other occupations on emotional intelligence over the last decade, the figures had declined sharply from their 2012 peak.

The study, The Emotional Intelligence of the HR sector, found that HR has recently scored low on characteristics such as self-confidence, emotional resilience, assertiveness and ‘goal-directedness’.

More broadly, it found that while 90 per cent of respondents have a strong appreciation of what emotional intelligence can bring to organisations, fewer than a third (30 per cent) of companies actively look for it in their recruitment selection process or include it in their development strategies.

The report speculates that the dip in HR morale is likely to have been caused by both internal and external factors such as structural changes within the workplace and reductions in the size of departments, as well as the ongoing effects of the economic recession. The study notes that recent economic conditions have led to HR professionals not only having to make redundancies but also being subjected to that possibility themselves.

Gemma Tumelty, director at The HR Dept consultancy, agreed that the economic downturn had affected the profession. “It feels like what they [HR professionals] had was a very negative time and now they can do more positive things. Essentially, HR people are ‘people people’ and they want to have a positive impact on people’s lives in the workplace while also looking after the commercial relationship for the business. I imagine it will now become a much nicer time to be in HR again.”

Jo Maddocks, R&D director at JCA Global, said: “We interpret this particular slump as meaning that the HR sector is good at relationships but less strong at dealing with setbacks. We also know there is a close relationship between the ‘financial economy’ and the ‘emotional economy’, and it is likely that when people are more financially secure, they will feel more emotionally secure.”

For the profession to climb back up the emotional intelligence rankings, become consistently strong and less susceptible to the ups and downs of organisational change, Maddocks said HR “must not only excel at the softer, interpersonal aspects, but also the harder self-management components of emotional intelligence”.

Jonathon Hogg, a people and operations expert at PA Consulting Group, added: “Very high expectations are being placed on HR. The function is under relentless pressure to contribute more: to be smarter and more analytical, be leaner and more efficient, be more strategic and innovative. These expectations are sometimes painfully at odds and hard to meet. It’s not surprising, then, that this is taking its toll on confidence and morale within the HR profession.”

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