When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, those of us who worked outside our homes found ourselves abruptly catapulted into work-from-home life. With this unexpected change came uncertainty and anxiety about what was going to happen next – and we found ourselves wondering what was waiting for us in the murky future of business and productivity.
While it’s still challenging at this point to imagine what the next year will bring us, there’s no denying that soft skills are the main focal point in leadership trends. The organizations that remained successful in 2020 were those whose leadership and workforce had strong soft skills that made them more adaptable and flexible in a time of crisis. Now that we have seen the roles that soft skills play in the workplace, there’s no excuse for any business to ignore the importance and benefits of soft skills training for their employees.
What Are Soft Skills?
With all the hype around soft skills, it’s important to have a solid understanding of what they really are. Soft skills are non-technical skills that impact the way you absorb information, do your day-to-day work, interact with others, solve problems, etc. This broad category includes interpersonal skills, communication and listening skills, emotional intelligence, time management, empathy, etc.
In the past, hard skills might have been king in terms of what hiring managers looked out for in prospective talent but in 2021, most industries realize the value of recruiting individuals who display highly-developed soft skills in addition to whatever hard skills they have that are relevant to the industry. This is because someone may be an expert on the software an organization uses, but that really means nothing if they have terrible time management skills and can never get any work done.
The good news is that soft skills are transferable across industries and positions, which means that employers, managers, supervisors and employees alike can greatly benefit by continually working on developing and strengthening their soft skills.
Benefits of Soft Skills Training
As 2020 came to a close, 44 percent of employers surveyed believed that candidates searching for jobs lack the vital soft skills needed to do a job successfully. The most competitive companies know that hiring new talent with a strong history of highly developed soft skills will help their organization thrive over the next several years.
That said, employers don’t have to hire entire waves of new individuals to have any hope of remaining successful and competitive. It’s just as beneficial to implement upskilling programs for current employees that teach soft skills and structure continual development of soft skills into the workforce’s normal routines. In fact, soft skill training can increase return on investment by 256 percent! Investing in effective employee upskilling leads to:
- Increased productivity
- Stronger teamwork
- More effective leaders
- Improved retention of top talent
- Reduced turnover
- Improved employee morale
- Stronger, more effective interdepartmental communication
- Improved consistency in output, productivity
As we forge ahead in 2021 after the trauma and uncertainty that 2020 brought, certain soft skills have taken leadership over the rest as most desirable. Considering that the business world has faced unprecedented upheaval recently, here are the top benefits of implementing routine and comprehensive soft skill training right now:
1. Improved adaptability – Much of what we hear about competitive organizations these days is that their workforce is adaptable. After the crises brought on by the pandemic, we’ve seen firsthand how the most adaptable organizations are able to survive while others have closed doors permanently. This isn’t new to business, but it’s become all the more important this year.
Adaptability means that employees are flexible, do well in collaborative efforts, have amazing critical thinking skills even in a crisis, are able to conduct thorough and meaningful research, have highly-developed observation and problem-solving skills, etc.
For example, Home Depot is a company that has been working on expanding ecommerce options for the past several years. However, when the pandemic hit, they immediately leaned into their adaptability and expanded efforts to strengthen connectivity of storefronts in various locations, improving their pick-up capabilities for customers. Many Americans decided to make home improvements during the pandemic in response to being stuck at home, and Home Depot was able to immediately answer that call – their stock rose 27 percent in 2020.
2. Improved feelings of belonging thanks to leadership figures who are able to practice active listening – There’s no denying that the work-from-home life has led to increased feelings of isolation and loneliness for many workers. As the months drag on with countless employees unable to safely return to work until vaccines are more widely available, listening skills are becoming more and more important, both on the part of employees and management. We all want to feel heard and understood. Workers are expressing a clear need for their leadership to listen and understand them in these troubling times.
On the flip side, managers need employees who are able to really actively listen and understand communications about work procedures, company needs and updates, etc.
Those who have amazing active listening skills are attentive, pay attention to detail and are able to easily and naturally connect with others. This makes them assets to any team, because they have influence, and people gravitate towards them.
In an organization where active listening is present and valued among the highest leadership, communication and efficiency are never a problem, and productivity improves at all levels. If your organization hasn’t prioritized training for active listening, especially in managers and leaders, it’s likely that you’ve seen a dip in productivity levels after employees have struggled through a year of pandemic life, because their needs aren’t being met, and your organization can’t help if they don’t understand those needs.
3. Excellent organization-wide communication – This is a big one, and it includes many different types of communicating. How we communicate includes the words we speak, our non-verbal cues, our written language styles and even how we conduct ourselves online (think Zoom meetings).
As important as communication is at work, 57 percent of employees report not getting clear directions on assignments, and 69 percent of managers admit to not being comfortable with communicating with their employees in general. This is a huge problem that leads to burnout, and organizations that don’t work on this face serious complications as we are forced to lean more into technology to help us interact and communicate about work.
Effective communication at work helps avoid confusion, provides purpose, contributes to positive and healthy workplace culture, creates accountability on all levels and improves flexibility.
4. Enhanced teamwork – In response to the pandemic, your organization likely sent out internal communications to the effect of “we’re all in this together.” Why send out communications like that? The answer is simple: It helps promote feelings of belonging and inclusion at work.
In the United States, we saw a lot of social and political unrest in 2020, so pushes for teamwork are centered around healing wounds we’ve seen come to the surface in society by promoting unity in the workplace. This positive mindset helps to improve workplace culture, which is more important now than ever before as millennial and Gen Z workers are three times more likely to leave a job with toxic culture than their predecessors would have been. The truth is clear: employers must lean on cultures of trust and teamwork to retain top talent moving forward.
While the retail industry definitely struggled in 2020, REI is an example of an organization that prioritizes teamwork and has a reputation for stellar culture. Employees of all levels are encouraged to participate in town hall meetings to help management understand diverse employee needs. The real kicker is that leadership actually listens and implements strategic change to improve the employee experience as needed, so they don’t just talk the talk. REI is able to continue running business operations smoothly because they are a notoriously great place to work.
5. Leaders are able to develop high emotional intelligence – This is a huge one now, thanks to the pandemic. Emotional intelligence involves being able to understand and name emotions in others, understanding one’s own emotions, reasoning with and responding to emotions, managing emotions, etc. All of these things contribute to how an individual gives and receives feedback, how they handle stress, how they interact with coworkers, etc.
Human needs and work-life balance are essential to keep in mind as workers burn out due to pandemic-related stressors. These things can’t be adequately monitored and improved upon without leaders who have high EQ.
6. Building a strong network of critical thinkers – This one can be considered a sort of umbrella for many other soft skills, including problem solving. The ability to think critically about problems and find creative solutions comes from strong critical thinking skills. A workforce with critical thinkers can improve customer service, enhance productivity, contribute to a stronger team, etc.
All of these benefits together lead to a healthy and productive workforce. It’s no secret that an organization that values its employees and invests in their wellness is more successful in their given industry. Soft skills account for 90 percent of what makes people able to demonstrate success in their roles and grow in their careers, so it’s critical to build soft skills training into any organization so that teams will remain competitive and empower their organizations to remain competitive, and even thrive, in a challenging market.
How to Enhance Your Organization with Soft Skills Training
KnowledgeCity has an entire library of soft skills training courses that will serve any industry. Now is the perfect time to start incorporating current and effective soft skills training materials into your organization’s employee learning and development structure.
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