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Soft skills are what humans use to interact with one another, read other people, and emotionally navigate situations.

From customer service to marketing to managing people, many business interactions rely on soft skills. A workforce well-versed in soft skills can give a company a competitive edge as both an employer and in the marketplace.

In almost every industry, technology is disrupting how people work. The rise of AI in the workplace is automating routine, repetitive tasks that are more efficiently handled by computers, allowing employees to focus on work that demands soft skills.

Also known as people skills, these are the attributes of an employee’s emotional intelligence that enables them to play well with others.

As Deanna Pate of LinkedIn explains, soft skills are amongst the top skills required by companies.

Here we’ll go through what soft skills are, why they’re important, and how to develop them.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are personality and interpersonal skills like communication skills, time management, problem solving, and listening skills.

You should still look for technical skills in a job candidate, but candidates that also have soft skills are more likely to perform well. That’s why employers prefer employees who already have soft skills.

The Future of Work 2021: Global Hiring Outlook report states that employees named soft skills like dependability, flexibility, and collaboration as their most preferred skills in an employee.

Soft skills make you employable and enable you to distinguish yourself from colleagues who might have similar qualifications and experience. Moreover, soft skills are also critical when navigating day-to-day business challenges like dealing with a dissatisfied client or negotiating with a supplier.

Important soft skills for job success include:

  • Adaptability: the ability to be flexible and open to change for learning and growth
  • Collaboration: effectively contribute to a diverse team
  • Critical thinking skills: inquiry, resourcefulness, and creativity in problem-solving
  • Communication: the ability to effectively convey and receive information
  • Emotional awareness: possess empathy and tools for conflict resolution
  • Accountability: fulfill responsibilities, always follow through, and accept responsibility
  • Creativity: the ability to come up with new original ideas to solve issues and complete tasks
  • Dependability: being trustworthy and reliable
  • Active listening: the skill of paying close attention to what is being said and discussed
  • Problem solving: achieving your goals by determining and overcoming obstacles.
  • Leadership skills: lead, manage, and guide team members.
  • Persuasion: the capability to influence the behavior and beliefs of others
  • Work ethic: The ‘can do’ attitude and determination to work hard to achieve company goals
  • Acceptance of criticism: being able to receive constructive criticism with an open mind
  • Positivity: approaching challenging or complex situations with an optimistic attitude
  • Time management: consciously planning and splitting time among various tasks.

As people shift towards careers that require highly developed soft skills, HR managers must adjust their approach to this increasingly people-centric workplace. 

That means redefining roles, creating new jobs, and upskilling current workers. According to Deloitte’s 2019 Global Human Capital Trends, “organizations must redesign jobs to focus on finding the human dimension of work.” 

As part of their organizational development, companies need to develop and strengthen soft skills in every employee, from frontline workers to the C-Suite, in order to maximize productivity and success.

Why are soft skills important?

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Soft Skills Are an Engagement Booster 

Technical skills connect workers to the physical function of their jobs. Soft skills build an emotional connection between workers and their jobs, the company, and colleagues. 

Developing an employee’s soft skills creates an environment of belonging and purpose. In other words, soft skills increase employee engagement, a factor that is known to directly impact business outcomes, like productivity.

While soft skills might initially seem hard to measure on their own, their effects reverberate across an organization with hard data to back them up. Increased engagement, which can be tracked with an employee app’s real-time analytics dashboard, is the first indicator that soft skills are a good business strategy. 

As engagement goes up employee life cycles are extended, creating a dedicated, productive workforce. According to one MIT study, companies that rate highly for employee experience and engagement are twice as innovative and more than 26% more profitable than their competition. 

The Most Innovative Employees Have High Emotional IQs

If any company is good at crunching data it’s Google. In its early years, the company hired employees with algorithms, narrowing their candidate pool by their GPA and technical skills.

Then, in 2013, they conducted an internal study to find out which employees were most successful in terms of productivity and innovation.

Turns out the top seven qualities of the company’s best-performing and most innovative employees were soft skills. In a bold move, Google reinvented how, and who, it hired, opening their positions up to candidates with non-technical degrees, like arts and humanities.

Soft Skills are Reinventing Recruiting and Retention

92% of the 5,000 companies surveyed for LinkedIn’s 2019 Global Talent Trends reported that soft skills are equally, or even more, important than hard skills when recruiting new employees. 

A human resources manager needs to develop strategies for recruiting and retention specific to this human-driven workplace.

If a company has a reputation for putting people first, it’ll attract the right candidates from the start. People are looking for more than a paycheck: they want meaningful work, a supportive environment, and human connections.

Two reasons to look for people skills in candidates are:

  • Employees with strong interpersonal skills are going to need less hand-holding. They will have the confidence to be self-starters and collaborators. Managers can delegate projects to these employees with less oversight and more time to dedicate to bigger projects. 
  • When searching for candidates for management-level jobs, it’s always best to recruit from within. If HR hires candidates with strong soft skills, those employees will have the innate ability to grow and learn within the company, the qualities a leader needs to be successful. 

To prioritize soft skills in the workplace, leaders must model the desired qualities for employees, and a company’s culture needs to prioritize them. Building an emotionally intelligent workforce is the best business decision a company can make today.

How to develop soft skills in employees?

A McKinsey survey reveals that millions of workers, especially in advanced economies, need to reskill. Soft skills are one of the most important skills required for a modern employee. The question: how exactly do you encourage employees to develop soft skills?

Employers generally default to thinking of personalized training courses to cultivate their personal skills, but they aren’t the only options. You can implement other strategies to promote soft skills training in your organization such as:

1. Quantify soft skills

One of the biggest challenges when thinking of soft skills is that, unlike hard skills, they’re intangible. We can often think of people who are emotionally intelligent, but can’t tell who is more or less intelligent.

However, you can find a way to quantify these skills with tests or good old performance assessments. Putting a number next to a soft skill gives employees a starting point and a goal, making their progress more tangible.

If they’re unable to make considerable progress, both you and the employee will know faster. This allows the team member to seek help and figure out things to do to develop a specific skill faster.

2. Cultivate a culture of learning

One-on-one performance coaching, live workshops, and training programs can help cultivate soft skills in your employees.

However, you can’t force employees to develop essential soft skills. You must cultivate a culture of learning in the company and mentor employees who genuinely want to acquire new skills.

Developing a culture is a gradual process. To get started, you can explain how developing soft skills can improve performance in the workplace and have a positive impact on their career.

The goal is to get your employees to want to develop soft skills. Eventually, you’ll see your employees develop an appetite for acquiring new skills.

Once you have a culture of learning, more of your employees will be receptive to the training resources you provide. Effective training is critical to your success as a company—84% of the employees in the best-performing organizations receive the training they need.

3. Give your employees time and opportunity to hone their skill

Offer your employees time and space to practice and enhance their soft skills. For example, outdoor retreats and team activities allow them to hone skills like collaboration, teamwork, creativity, emotional intelligence, teamwork, and communication skills.

Exposing them to high-pressure or critical situations helps them polish their analytical, leadership, critical thinking, time management, and social skills.

4. Offer constructive feedback

Now, it’s time to take the training wheels off.  Offer employees continuous constructive feedback in real-time. Show them the way and be there to offer your guidance whenever they might need it.

89% of HR leaders agree that ongoing feedback has a positive impact on their company. However, it’s also important to provide feedback the right way. When providing feedback on developing soft skills, be patient and open.

Remember, developing soft skills takes time because some of them require making a mindful change in personality and habits. Listen to your team with patience and get their feedback on how they feel about the process. Invite suggestions on how you can improve the learning process for them.

5. Recognize and award the best-performing employees

Recognition is a powerful tool to encourage desirable behaviors. You can provide the team with a little incentive to go the extra mile to develop their core skills. For instance, you can come up with ways to recognize and award the best communicator, leader, analytical thinker, or collaborator of the group.

Recognition and rewards offer two benefits. One, it will incentivize the team to put in the work to develop soft skills. Two, it will positively impact the morale of employees who succeed in developing soft skills.

6. Hold interactive workshops

Online courses can provide a great framework for developing soft skills. Real-life examples, and a methodical approach to inculcating those skills, can fast-track the development process.

However, interactive workshops are even better because they’re immersive. Employees have the option to ask questions in real-time.

During the workshop, you can have employees simulate scenarios where they might need to apply the learned soft skills. This allows them to practice and also see their colleagues apply the learned skills, allowing them to learn more about potential pitfalls and common errors.

Find out how HR software can help your organization by checking this list of 10 Best HR Analytics Software For Actionable Workforce Data or our list of the 10 Best People Analytics Software for Workforce Analysis.

By Alexandra Zamolo

Alexandra Zamolo is a master storyteller, brand marketer, and idiom enthusiast. As Beekeeper’s Head of Content Marketing, she provides insightful content to help educate non-desk workforces about internal communication, employee engagement, AI, cybersecurity, and other challenges facing the hospitality, retail, and manufacturing industries.