Surviving the pandemic with Emotional Intelligence (EI)

Group of students interacting on campus, in facilities, Campus life

By Angelina Laing

In response to the spread of COVID-19 in early 2020, Malaysia was among many affected countries around the world implementing nationwide lockdowns, resulting in many economic activities grinding to a halt. Immediate adjustments were required to safeguard the wellbeing of individuals, including remote working and remote learning, forcing employees and students alike to work in social isolation.

Needless to say, numerous problems arose as we weathered the pandemic. People lost their jobs. Parents struggled with balancing work demands and parental duties during school shutdowns. Celebrations and grieving for loved ones were done in small groups, some even in isolation. As long as COVID-19 is prevalent among us, uncertainties and unprecedented changes will remain in our lives, leaving built-up anxieties in the lives of many.

We now struggle not only with financial and physical health, but also mental health. You may have noticed the many free webinars on mental health issues available to the public of late. They attempt to increase awareness of mental health and avert the social stigma surrounding stress, depression and suicide.

What probably has not been spoken much about in our society is how Emotional Intelligence (EI) can help us through this pandemic – in managing stress, anxieties and pandemic fatigue.  Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence Model identifies four dimensions which encompasses the representation of emotional recognition in oneself and surrounding people, as well as the regulation of emotions of self and other people.

The first dimension is self-awareness, which is the ability to observe and understand emotions of oneself. The second dimension is self-management, which is the ability to self-manage one’s emotions. The third dimension is social awareness, which is the human skills to observe and decipher the emotions of others, and fourth dimension is relationship management, which is the social competency to manage others’ emotions.

Most people will be experiencing pandemic fatigue as we enter year three of the pandemic in 2022. While the reopening of both essential and non-essential businesses are still in transition, new threats from the latest variant, Omicron, have emerged. Employees are hesitant and experiencing stress and anxiety as they return to work. Parents are possibly confronting similar feelings as their children return to school.

When dealing with uncertainties, people who are emotionally intelligent are able to focus on what they can and cannot control. An emotionally intelligent mother would be able to observe her own emotions and her children’s emotions regarding returning to school. To reduce anxiety, she ensures her children are ready to return to school with sufficient supplies of the right size of face masks, anti-bacterial hand sanitisers, a thermometer and an oximeter. She maintains a good relationship with the teachers, and she is both supportive and cooperative. Instead of panicking, she focuses her energy on what she can control, thus she is better prepared.

Similarly, as the economy reopens, EI is pivotal in ensuring organisations recover and survive the pandemic. Leaders’ ability to manage their emotional state as well as empathise with others is essential for effective leadership.

Contemporary leadership development strongly acknowledges non-cognitive skills, attributes and competencies as an essential component in managerial skills development and organisational success, dismissing cognitive and technical skills as core factors in a workplace goal attainment.

Derived from the emergence of Multiple Intelligences, Emotional Intelligence (EI or EQ), has consistently been examined by scholars, proving a profound relationship between EI and leadership effectiveness. The many months of remote working and social isolation have increased frictions, stress, and confusions in workplaces. Thus EI is essential for individuals to emotionally connect with others whilst working remotely.

While many have now returned to work, anxieties and uncertainties remain, especially with continued COVID-19 exposure and the emergence of new variants. An emotionally intelligent leader is able to understand the needs of employees to be heard and understood regarding their anxieties. Likewise, emotionally intelligent employees are able to focus their energy on managing their emotions to reduce anxiety, are more supportive towards colleagues and more adaptable to stress.

Surviving the pandemic is challenging, so is recovery. Thus the world demands more emotionally intelligent individuals and leaders. The sustainability of an organisation does not rely solely on higher management; the commitment of employees is also imperative in developing a common vision for an organisation. This results in staff motivation, staff engagement and staff productivity, interpreted as indicators of leadership effectiveness.

Effective leadership requires not only excellence in many areas, but also leaders with high levels of EI. Managing feelings and emotions have been identified as one of the biggest drivers in managing relationship challenges faced by leaders in the workplace. Multifaceted leaders are perceived as a requirement in ensuring organisational success, with EI as an enabler in engaging employees to continuously demonstrate productivity and loyalty.

Handling employees with various emotional dispositions, especially during the pandemic is indeed a challenging organisational task for leaders, thus, embedding EI into leadership is necessary in increasing employee engagement and resilience.


Angelina Laing is a lecturer in the Department of Culture and Language Studies at Curtin Malaysia’s Faculty of Humanities and Health Sciences. Her research interests are in the areas of Leadership Effectiveness, Servant Leadership, Leadership Sustainability and Emotional Intelligence. She also has a passion for nature and is a certified PADI diver and certified Reef Check Diver, in addition to being one of the co-advisors of the Curtin Dive Club at Curtin Malaysia. Angelina can be contacted via email at angelina.laing@curtin.edu.my

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