Emotional Intelligence May Contribute to Job Burnout

An employee’s job performance is dependent upon many things, including emotional intelligence (EI). “It has been established that the emotions an employee experiences in their organization affect his/her psychological and physical health, and also that employee’s attitude towards duties, the organization, and work-related accomplishments,” said Tae Won Moon of the Department of Business Administration at Hongik University in Seoul, South Korea, and lead author of a recent study examining EI on the job. Burnout, also termed emotional exhaustion, is a key factor in determining how emotional intelligence affects job performance. “In our study we used the words emotional exhaustion and burnout interchangeably. Burnout includes three distinct states:  emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and diminished personal accomplishment,” said Won Moon. “Among these three states, emotional exhaustion is at the core of burnout.” When an employee is forced to exhibit emotions to customers that are insincere, such as smiling to a customer when having a bad day, causes emotional dissonance. “Researchers have suggested that sustained emotional dissonance reduces an individual’s self-identity or even promotes a strong contrary (pseudo) identity and this leads to feelings of stress, frustration, or burnout/emotional exhaustion,” said Won Moon. High levels of EI are linked to increased coping skills, on and off the job. Therefore, Won Moon theorized that low levels of EI would lead to emotional exhaustion or burnout.

For the study, Won Moon interviewed 295 employees from a South Korean department store. The average age of the participants was 38, and all had been employed for at least one year. The results revealed that three key components of EI, optimism, social skills and emotional validation, were negatively linked to emotional exhaustion. “We speculate that individuals who are good at utilizing their emotions by incorporating emotion in thought, and understanding emotions by employing emotional knowledge, may be more likely to experience emotional exhaustion,” said Won Moon. “Since they put more effort into making emotional facilitation in thinking, and analyzing their own and others’ emotions, this process may generate a feeling of stress, frustration, or burnout/emotional exhaustion.”

Moon, Tae Won, and Won-Moo Hur. “EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE, EMOTIONAL EXHAUSTION, AND JOB PERFORMANCE.” Social Behavior & Personality: An International Journal 39.8 (2011): 1087-096. Print.

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • T. Jimenez

    T. Jimenez

    October 26th, 2011 at 8:17 AM

    I worked in customer service for 20 years and had days where I could have happily strangled some customers. When you work with the general public especially though you have to put on a happy face every day whether you feel that way or not. It can be very exhausting indeed emotionally to do so.

  • Barbara Fisher

    Barbara Fisher

    October 26th, 2011 at 1:24 PM

    @T. Jiminez- but that’s what you get paid for, right? You can’t go into your work and be a sourpuss all day long either. That affects everyone around you as well as yourself.

    To you and people like you I say save the griping about your life for your partner or mom, not your coworkers. See, I’m kinda busy doing my job while you’re standing there with your arms folded doing nothing.

  • zarna


    October 26th, 2011 at 2:21 PM

    I think that the most important thing is for you to find a job where your strengths lie. I know that right now many of us can’t be too picky as long as we have a job, but there comes a time when you have to raise that EI and make it through it. I am not talking about turning to things that are going to be harmful to both your health and your ability to hold down the job- but what I mean is that sometimes you kind of have to take one for the team. Think about everyone else involved if you are being petty and grow up a little. In the words of one of my fave TV gurus, Tim Gunn, make it work.

  • K.A.


    October 26th, 2011 at 3:09 PM

    Ha! I hear ya, Barbara. I work in retail with a young staff and have never met such a bunch of whiners. It’s very irritating to see them sulking over whatever their boyfriend or girlfriend did at the weekend or what so-and-so said.

    Get over it! You are there to work, not be petulant. Put a smile on your face even if you don’t feel like it.

  • robyn pine

    robyn pine

    October 26th, 2011 at 5:21 PM

    If they can’t do it, they shouldn’t be working in that job. It creates a poisonous atmosphere, annoys other staff and deters customers.

    I worked with a lad who insisted on practically lying on the counter at the register instead of standing behind it, his face never cracking a smile. At least stand up straight instead of slouching, guy! You’d have thought he was at home in front of the TV instead of at work.

    He only got the job because he was the son of the manager’s friend. No customer wants to deal with staff like that.

  • keith browne

    keith browne

    October 26th, 2011 at 5:33 PM

    @robyn pine – That’s true. I’ve stopped frequenting stores where the staff either ignored you and continued chatting, or looked right through you. Whatever happened to “Can I help you, sir?”. I understand it can’t be easy to keeping doing that and smiling day after day, but that’s why they are there and getting a salary.

    Note to retail staff: If your store doesn’t have customers, you’re out of a job so smile and stop treating them like an annoyance instead of a blessing! It’s very unprofessional as well as rude.

  • Patrick Ashburn

    Patrick Ashburn

    October 26th, 2011 at 6:11 PM

    Heck, big deal. Everybody wears one mask or another, at home, at work, with their buddies…you get used to it. The only time it would get to the stage of burnout is when you’re not dealing with the underlying problems that are making you unhappy.

    That’s nothing to do with the job-that’s your own fault. Deal with it or move into a back office or nightshift job where you don’t need to interact so much.

  • Amanda


    October 26th, 2011 at 10:28 PM

    Wow. what a compassionate bunch you are! I agree whole heartily with the article, what you are complaining about is not burnout, so shut your pie hole, you haven’t experienced it !

  • Chloee


    October 26th, 2011 at 10:58 PM

    Hmm,I think such people would be giving their all to the job all the time and that will obviously cause a burnout.Well,sometimes slow and steady is just better! :)

  • eric felix

    eric felix

    October 27th, 2011 at 11:58 AM

    emotional intelligence can change from employee to employee and even for those with the same job title and work nature.its simply because it is dependent on the particular employee’s nature and his personality.and because no two people are the same their emotional intelligence will not be the same either.

    and if there is a threat of a burnout,I believe there is a lot the management can do.basic things that keep your employee happy and the occasional ‘great going’ are the things that keep anybody motivated and this would sooth the employee thereby preventing a burnout.

  • DarrenSexton


    October 28th, 2011 at 12:00 AM

    What a shock. We pretend everything’s fine when it isn’t when we’re at work. To my mind that’s called professionalism when you don’t show you’re feeling anything other than positive to your customers.

    Newsflash! Thousands of men and women go to work every day that are facing some crisis or another, yet they keep plugging away and their customers are none the wiser usually. You have to juggle helping yourself and them simultaneously.

  • Kip Shelton

    Kip Shelton

    October 28th, 2011 at 12:27 AM

    If you need serious help and genuinely feel you’re facing burnout, you can go to the HR dept and talk to them. It may be better to have a little time off and come back in a better frame of mind, or perhaps a shift change or dept transfer would be beneficial. You can attempt to struggle on on your own but you don’t have to. Their job is to look after the staff’s wellbeing.

    HR can advise you on how best to manage how you are feeling and what your options are. Sometimes simply knowing you have some alone can make you feel much better.

  • Ivan Levy

    Ivan Levy

    October 30th, 2011 at 7:58 PM

    When you walk into your office or workplace, you leave your emotions at the door. Emotions have no place in a job. You need to be logical, methodical and keenly aware of what’s going on around you. If you’re emotional, you can be none of those things.

  • Chelsea T. Guzman

    Chelsea T. Guzman

    October 30th, 2011 at 9:20 PM

    Being a big cry-baby at work makes everyone uncomfortable. If it’s a guy it’s a hundred times worse. Okay, if you’re fired, I’d understand and only then. Blubbering like my three year old nephew because your supervisor yells at you makes you look weak and ineffectual.

  • Fernando Stevens

    Fernando Stevens

    October 31st, 2011 at 12:19 AM

    It helps to give yourself some boundaries and triggers that get you into work mode. No-one else need know either. Something as simple as putting on a certain bracelet or tie that you wear only to work could be your personal signal that it’s time to put personal stuff aside. Set yourself some rules mentally on how you’ll behave too when you’re wearing it.

  • June


    October 31st, 2011 at 4:19 AM

    I agree with Ivan.
    I work with too many people who bring everything to work and sometimes they need to check those feelings and emotions at the door.
    Nobody else should have to deal with all of my junk from home- so why should they feel entitled for me to have to live with and listen to theirs?
    That is what burns me up and burns me out!

  • Susie Jefferson

    Susie Jefferson

    November 2nd, 2011 at 3:16 PM

    @Fernando Stevens – Ohhh, I get it! It’s like the harness police dogs wear, no? When they have it put on them by their handler, the dogs know it’s time to get down to serious business and playtime is over. That’s not a bad idea.

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