Emotional intelligence: coping and well-being amongst higher education academics. Are they related? How are they experienced?

  • Phillip W Bowen

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Woods (2010) points out that research in emotional intelligence has been carried out at school level, but little research has been undertaken with academics in higher education. Research around emotions within the organisational context also appears to be limited in higher education (Briner, 1999, 2005; Kumar and Rooprai, 2009). There, therefore, appears to be an area in which research can be carried out. The overall aim of this study was to evaluate the concept of emotional intelligence (trait EI) in the higher educational context (University) and to investigate the relationship between emotional intelligence, coping and well-being. The research explored: how university academics cope emotionally with interpersonal relationships; if there was a significant correlation between emotional intelligence and well-being; if emotional intelligence can help academics cope; the emotionally challenging experiences academics have and how they cope with them. Mixed methodology was used in this research using a sequential, explanatory approach. Triangulation brings together the findings from the analysis of quantitative and qualitative data. The quantitative aspect of the research included a sample size of 100% (N =533); 45.8% (N = 244) male, with a mean age of 48.78 (SD = 10.9); and 54.2% (N = 289) female, with a mean age of 47.29 (SD = 9.78). All participants worked for universities in different countries around the world. Pearson’s product moment correlation coefficient was used to analyse the quantitative data associated with: coping (Carver, Scheier and Weintraub, 1989), managing emotions (Petrides, 2009a); perceived stress scale (PSS) (Cohen, Kamarck and Mermelstein, 1983); emotional demands (COPSOQ) (Copenhagen Psychosocial Questionnaire, 2003); and home/work recovery (Querstret and Cropley, 2012). The analysis showed that there was an inverse correlation between PSS and managing emotions (r = -0.52) suggesting a relationship between managing emotions and perceived stress. There appeared to be less significant relationships between the other instruments. Curvature analysis was undertaken on the relationship between emotional intelligence (EI squared) and Perceived stress (PSS). The findings identified a small R squared change of 0.007, while the sig F change is 0.036 which suggests significance as it is less than 0.05. However, it is very small. The nonlinear effect (the addition) of the EI squared variable which is associated with the 0.007 change was 4.41 (F change) which again, appeared very small when compared with the linear F change of 168.32. Moderation was undertaken using Hayes’ (2016) “Process” model. The findings showed that when there was a low level of coping there was a significant negative relationship between PSS and EI (b = -0.16, 95% CI [-0.21, -0.11], t = -6.36, p =00). At the mean value of coping, there was a negative relationship between PSS and EI (b = -0.19, 95% CI [- 0.22, -0.15], t = -10.92, p =00). When there was a high level of coping there was a significant negative relationship between PSS and EI (b = - 0.21, 95% CI [-0.25, -0.17], t = -9.33, p =00). The findings suggest that notwithstanding how well academics cope there was a negative relationship between PSS and EI. The conditional effect of x on y values of the moderators showed that at low levels of coping there was a (negative) significant effect (p less than 0.05) of PSS on EI (-12.01, p <0.05). At average levels of coping there was negative significant effect of PSS on EI (0, p <0.05). At high levels of coping there was a positive significant effect. Mediation analysis was also undertaken to find out the effect PSS has on EI influenced by coping. The findings suggest that there was a small significant indirect effect of PSS on EI, through coping where b = 0.02, 95% CI [-0.05, 0.08]. The qualitative aspect of the research included interviews with 11 academics aged 29 to 58. Thematic analysis (TA) was undertaken identifying examples of emotional challenges and experience that are integrated into the study to contextualise the findings. The findings suggest that each person has his/ her own coping strategies which may overlap. This does not come out from findings of the questionnaire/ survey, exemplifying the advantages of undertaking interviews. The findings from the interviews were used to provide greater depth and explanation, than if quantitative data was used alone. Limitations identified include individual differences and challenges in generalising beyond the sample size. A further limitation was that different sample types, models and instruments may have been used in earlier research. Fuzzy generalisations are, therefore, made that replace the certainty of scientific generalisations that help contribute to theory and future research. Overall, it was apparent from the findings from the interviews that, whereas academics experience stressful/ challenging experiences, they use emotional intelligence to help them cope in a constructive manner using ways of coping such as: humour, emotional/ instrumental support. The findings from the quantitative data showed that as perceived stress goes down, emotional intelligence goes up. Each of the methods undertaken in this study support the view that academics do use emotional intelligence to help them cope with stressful and challenging experiences, dependent upon context and circumstances that he/ she experience. Recommendations are made that include training academics to understand their own emotions and to identify emotions in others and then to manage the emotions. This could help increase awareness of emotional intelligence. It is recommended that training be voluntary and be extended to all stakeholders. To embed the training into the organisational procedures and to help communication of emotional intelligence, policies should be developed to help academics and other stakeholders to cope with stressful and challenging experiences to help improve student experience.
Date of Award2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Northampton
SupervisorAndrew Pilkington (Supervisor) & Richard Rose (Supervisor)

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