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Smart Doesn't Always Equal Happy for Public Employees

If you’re happy and you know it…you probably don’t work at city hall.

At least that’s the finding of new research that finds that emotional intelligence – the ability to evaluate and control emotions as well as assess co-workers’ emotions – results in a positive work attitude, but only if you work in the private sector.

Public sector employees were found to be much more astute at managing internal politics, however their emotional intelligence did little to improve their attitude toward work.

“The results of this study emphasize the existence of significant behavioral differences between the private and public sectors. Executives intending to carry out reforms or implement management plans in the public sector should be well aware of these differences,” said Galit Meisler, professor at the University of Haifa in Israel, who conducted the study.

A comparison between the public and private sectors revealed a higher level of workplace political wrangling in the public sector. Moreover, the political skills of public sector employees were much more developed. Yet, significant differences in employees’ emotional intelligence level were not found.

The study shows that emotional intelligence has a much greater impact on private sector employees’ perceptions and attitudes compared to public sector employees.

Moreover, the study found that employees from the public sector were more likely to use forceful influence tactics, regardless of their emotional intelligence level. In the private sector, however, employees with a higher level of emotional intelligence were less likely to use such tactics.

The study also revealed that in the private sector, emotional intelligence contributes to forming desirable attitudes towards the organization, such as organizational justice, satisfaction at work and emotional commitment to the organization. High levels of emotional intelligence also reduce negative attitudes, such as burnout, intentions to leave and the tendency to neglect work. The impact of emotional intelligence in the public sector, on the other hand, was not as strong.

“We believe that the high level of organizational politics in the public sector and the stress associated with it decrease the positive effects of emotional intelligence for this sector,” Meisler said.