Emotional intelligence in the IT workplace

In his new book, Managing Psychological Factors in Information Systems Work: An Orientation to Emotional Intelligence, Eugene Kaluzniacky synthesizes what psychologists know about personality and learning styles with what IT managers know about IT workers.

The result, says the instructor in the Department of Applied Computer Science and Administrative Studies at the University of Winnipeg, is just the first step toward bringing IT to a new level of productivity and humanity. Kaluzniacky told Computerworld U.S.’s Kathleen Melymuka about his vision. He invites feedback and collaboration at eugene.kaluzniacky@ uwinnipeg.ca.

I’ve seen books about emotional intelligence and about IT. Why combine the two now?

Information systems are sociotechnical in nature. There’s a technical component and a people-oriented component. You hear a lot of complaints that technical people often build the system right but don’t build the right system.

More recently, there has been a lot about burnout among IT workers. I did a poll on the Internet, and about 48 per cent of 500 respondents said they were close to burnout. So that could become epidemic in next few years. IT is a unique area in that you have to create, but you have to create on time and be precise and specific and it has to work. So you’ve got precision, deadline and creativity at the same time. That doesn’t happen in many fields.

Also, because technology has proliferated, more is possible and more is expected of IT professionals — sometimes to the point of not being realistic. So people need more tools than they currently have to work in this profession.

How can an understanding of emotional factors help an IT manager work more effectively?

A true story of how personality can play in systems development: In a financial services company, two ladies showed up the same on three dimensions of the Myers-Briggs personality inventory and different on the fourth, which measured how much structure they required to be comfortable. I asked them what in the course of their work stressed them the most.

The structured person said she became very stressed if she had more than one thing on her desk at once. The person who required less structure said she was really stressed if there was only one thing to work on; she had to have several.

So if a person is wired in a certain way and you’re having him or her do things that stifle them, you’re underutilizing them, and they’re burning out because you don’t understand their natural style. If a manager understood the personality, thinking styles, operating styles of people, it’s incredible how much energy could be freed up.

If there were one thing you’d like readers to take away from this book, what would it be?

I think there’s a lot of empowerment to be gained from awareness of the psychological factors in the course of IT work.

I wanted to state a vision and bring IT to a new level. I would love to see this book as a first step. I’ve already created a Web site on wellness in IT (http://itwellness.ncf.ca) and I will build a separate component for comments and questions about the book. That’s a start. There will have to be volunteers for the next stage (of research), and I’m looking for them.

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