Emotional Intelligence and Burnout

Emotional Intelligence and Burnout

Have you ever wondered why some people get burned out and others don’t? The key according to research could be emotional intelligence.


Stress and burnout are not the same thing as researchers discovered in a recent study,  “Leading Through Burnout”. Where 35 chief medical officers at 35 large hospitals were assessed for their level of stress, and what,  if anything, they do to deal with burnout. The researchers were surprised with the findings: 69% of the CMOs described their current state of stress level as severe, very severe, or worst possible, yet the majority were not burned out according to the Maslach Burnout Inventory.


The common theme researchers found to what kept their stress under control: emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence (EI) supports superior coping abilities and helps people deal with chronic stress and prevent burnout.


Here’s how.


Self-management, an EI component, controls impulses and keeps you calm when faced with stress. Emotional self-awareness, another component, allows for a deeper understanding of the sources of anxiety and frustration, while improving the ability to consider different responses. Meanwhile, conflict management skills allows us to channel those emotions into a problem-solving mode rather than one that would keep you up all night.


Researchers learned from the study that people can leverage their emotional intelligence to deal with stress and ward off burnout.


Don’t create your own stress.

As one CMO described, “I’ve realized that much of my stress is self-inflicted from years of being hard on myself. Now that I know the problems it causes for me, I can talk myself out of the non-stop pressure.”


People who have a high need to achieve may be more prone to being the source of their own stress. Researchers say leaders who are more attuned to the pressures they put on themselves are better able to control when the stress levels get high.



Several of the study participants described using mindfulness techniques, like taking deep slow breaths,  to slow their heart rate and bring their tension level down when faced with a stressor.


Walk in someone else’s shoes.

By seeking to understand someone else’s perspective, it can give you a better understanding of where they are coming from and deescalate a conflict.

“One person we interviewed uses this approach consistently. He described how sharpening his empathic listening skills has enabled him to foster greater collaboration and create buy-in with his colleagues. In a recent situation, he said a physician stormed into his office and said “You must do this or babies will die.” Instead of reacting defensively and potentially causing more harm, he steadied himself and focused his attention on seeking to understand the physician’s perspective. His response deescalated the conflict and resulted in a healthy, less stressful conversation.”