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5 Reasons Why Soft Skills Matter, Now More Than Ever

As our economy continues to evolve into an information and knowledge based world, the need for technical skill and expertise grows every day. Education has rushed to fill this need and we see thousands of technical colleges and schools that spring up almost overnight. What is concerning however, is the tendency to overlook the importance of soft skills for every employee and student in our workforce.

Now some people may say that the need for soft skills is an outdated concept. They may say that, but they may also be wrong. Even in our 24/7 streaming universe people are the driving force between organizations, businesses, and governments. Let’s look at just five reasons why soft skills are so important for every company today and in the future.

The first reason soft skills matter has to do with a looming shortage of skilled employees and managers. The coming war for talent will be long and bloody I’m afraid. Not bloody in a literal sense, but it will have catastrophic effects on people’s lives and businesses. Populations are aging and birthrates are falling and this adds up to a critical shortage in workers entering the labor pool.

With every worker in demand, companies will have to offer more than just increased wages and loaded benefit plans. A recent survey has found that only 15% of employees left their jobs because of inadequate salary and benefits. Yet 30% left because of the way they were treated by managers and 25% because they felt they weren’t respected on the job. Another 20% left because they felt there wasn’t enough opportunity for advancement.

If I’ve done my math right, that’s at least 75% of employees leaving for reasons that could be directly impacted by managers and supervisors. It is still very true that people leave people not companies. Managers without soft skills are those who are responsible for driving away this 75% of employees. In a talent shortage, can you really afford to have your managers driving away skilled and productive employees?

A second reason why soft skills are so important has to do with the number of generations we now find in our workforce. According to most researchers there are at least four distinct generations in our workforce today. Even with tremendous soft skills, communication between such wide generational gaps has been, is currently and will continue to be difficult. And because of looming talent and labor shortages there could be more generations working together in the future, not less.

So who are the generations in our workplaces? Let’s have a look starting from oldest to youngest.

· Traditionalists (before 1945)

Veterans respect authority and hard work. They favor a top-down leadership style and take pride in a job well-done. They expect seniority, experience and perseverance to be rewarded.

· Baby Boomers (1946 to 1964)

Optimistic and keen to change the world, Baby Boomers throw themselves into their causes, including work. Although “question authority” is their mantra, Boomers tend to have workaholic natures. They seek consensus, often through a flurry of meetings.

· Generation X (1965 to 1980)

Skeptical Gen Xers grew up in the era of downsizing. In their mind, no job is safe – so you should do your own thing. Seeing the havoc that downsizing played, they prize work-life balance and won’t be married to their jobs.

· Millennials, Generation Y, Echoes (1981 to present)

Team-oriented Millennials want to be treated as equals. But, coming from overscheduled childhoods with lots of structure, they need lots of feedback.

Can you see how conflicts arise between the different generations? There are so many factors that have created different outlooks and these differences are not easily overcome. Navigating these generational gaps will require better people skills than ever before, fortunately these soft skills can be learned and developed.

A third reason why soft skills matter concerns the effect they have on customer service. Think back to your last few nights out at a restaurant, or at your local grocery store, or any other service setting. What went right and what went wrong? Customer service is all soft skill and it seems to disappearing at an alarming rate.

Although a decline in customer service seems to be a trend, there are still those who excel at it. What is it that makes them different? It could be a natural predisposition to people skills or more likely it happens because of a concerted effort to become a people person. In any case, businesses need to stop leaving customer service entirely in the hands of policy and empty mission statements and start training employees in the skills they need to effectively interact with their customers.

One of the most personal arguments for soft skills lies in the positive ways they help you advance your career. The most technically proficient person in the world will remain unemployed unless they can market themselves a little bit as well. When it comes down to it, someone with less technical skill but better ability to work with different people and departments will always get promoted over someone who can’t.

No matter how “good” you think you are you will not get the credit you feel you deserve if can’t communicate well with colleagues or clients. In fact, the perception might be that you are not competent. But when you interact better with the people you have to work with, your performance tends to improve and they go away with a positive impression. And the meaning of positive impression is more opportunity, more responsibility.

Finally, I want to touch on one of the most important reasons why soft skills matter in the workplace. Researchers have spent the past decade looking at the effect of employee engagement on our businesses and our economy. Engagement plays a huge role in the productivity and profitability of your business. And engagement is achieved not with technical skill, benefits plans or increased pay. Engagement is achieved by companies that do the “soft skills” well.

Julie Gebaur in her great book “Closing the Engagement Gap” asked these important questions about managers and leaders. “Do you help people in the organization develop new skills and advance their careers? Do you inspire employees to do what it takes so the organization can meet its goals? Do you inform people about how they can contribute to the organization’s performance? Do you show appreciation and recognize the efforts of work well done? Do you sincerely care about the people who work for the company, and for you, and let them know?”

None of these keys to engagement can be accomplished by technical skill or leading by example. It takes good old fashioned soft skill to convey these key ideas to each of your employees. And as we noted, with the rise of Millennials in the workplace, Generation Y needs this feedback more than any other. Now more than ever, think about how you are going to improve your soft skills. Your career, your business, and your life will be the richer for it.

Jim Brown invites you to learn more about Performance Improvement Tools for Managers and Employees at Browse through free whitepapers, case studies and other resources to help you select, coach, and train better employees and managers. Check out great ways to supplement your training and development programs with On-site programs from []

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