Emotional intelligence (EI) is about a person’s ability to deal with emotions. It is assumed that employees with high EI may experience high well-being at work. However, empirical findings are somewhat mixed. While some studies have identified a significant relationship between EI and well-being, others have not found such relationship. Considering these inconclusive findings, this study focusses on two personal factors - Positive Affectivity (PA) and Individualism - and examines how they may moderate the effect of EI on work well-being. Based on the assumption that EI only reflects a person’s effortful way of treating emotions, it is proposed that both PA and Individualism can activate and motivate the use of EI among employees, and therefore, can enhance its effect.
The hypotheses were tested among a sample of 240 Chinese managers, following a cross-sectional design. EI was assessed by emotion understanding and regulation in the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test. Work well-being was operationalised by three self-rated scales: job satisfaction, stress, and burnout. PA and Individualism were also captured by self-reports. The study further included measures of Negative Affectivity and Collectivism for controlling and exploratory purposes.
The research findings generally confirm the moderating effects of PA and Individualism on EI. Among employees with high PA or high Individualism, EI can contribute to them becoming more satisfied and less burnt out at work. It was also found that PA significantly enhanced the negative effect of EI (based on the US scoring) on job stress. However, the interaction between Individualism and EI did not have a significant effect on job stress. The main effect of EI was also not significant for the three well-being indicators, which suggested that EI, in the absence of salient motivators, may have little effect on well-being. These findings are discussed in detail, particularly with respect to their implications for methodology, theory and management practice.