Industry Case Study: Nurses

Challenge: The quality of a patient ’s experience plays an important role in defining the competitive advantage of healthcare organizations, especially during times of change and reform. Because nurses have the most frequent and direct contact with patients, their performance and behaviors have a significant impact on patient evaluations.

Understanding the antecedents of successful performance is critical to the selection, development, and attrition of nurses who can deliver high-quality treatment. Working with ill and stressed people on a daily basis requires personal attributes such as caring and empathy that are beyond general cognitive ability. To identify these characteristics, we initiated a research study to investigate the personality-based success factors for Nurses and Nurse Managers.

Solution: Based on years of experience working with clients in the healthcare industry and existing research on healthcare professionals, we concluded that individual differences in emotional intelligence play a critical role in differentiating nursing job performance. Therefore, we used the Hogan EQ Report, a personality-based measure of interpersonal and intrapersonal emotional intelligence competencies, to study the personal attributes of 167
Nurses and 90 Nurse Managers sampled from various hospitals across the U.S.

Results: The graph below summarizes the average EQ scale scores (in percentiles) for Nurses and Nurse Managers.


In general, both Nurses and Nurse Managers score relatively high (above 60%) on all EQ scales compared to the general working population, which suggests that nursing jobs require higher emotional intelligence than other occupations.

In comparing the two groups:
• Nurses are significantly higher than Nurse Managers on emotional Awareness, Detection, and Regulation (p< .05)
• Nurses tend to be higher than Nurse Managers on Empathy and Overall EQ
• Nurses tend to be lower than Nurse Managers on Influence and Expressivity

These results are consistent with the nature of the two jobs. For Nurses, frequent interactions with patients require them to be aware of inner emotions (Awareness) and the emotional signals of others (Detection) so they can maintain a stable emotional state and effectively react to patients’ stress. Nurses also tend to be skilled at selecting effective coping strategies under stress (Regulation), which enables them to retain cognitive resources for problem-solving.

In contrast, Nurse Managers interact less with patients. Instead, they are responsible for supervising Nurses and coordinative nursing activities. This role requires different personal characteristics such as the ability to openly confront subordinate misbehaviors, which requires the ability to alter others’ emotions (Influence) and convey desirable emotional states to others (Expressivity).

Implication: Our findings show that while both Nurses and Nurse Managers are higher on EQ across the board when compared to the general public, the two groups possess somewhat different strengths. This phenomenon is not uncommon in other industries. We have also seen teams in Sales, Engineering, and Finance who have difficulty promoting managers from within because different or even opposing skills and personal attributes are required at higher levels.

Based on the current findings, we recommend that healthcare providers take
into consideration personal attributes critical to different roles to effectively select or develop high potential Nurses into managerial positions.