Why leaders need to invest for development of employees’ soft skills

Hard skills have always been important and appreciated at work. But as offices see more use of technology and cultural shifts, soft skills have gained equal importance to keep teams functioning seamlessly.

How critical are soft skills; what can leaders do to help their teams upskill in these areas and how urgent is this need — it is increasingly getting important for all stakeholders to explore such questions and find answers.

A recent Wiley Workplace Intelligence report — Soft Skills, Big Impact: Elevating Workplace Satisfaction — attempts to address some such questions. The report defines soft skill as interpersonal skills covering areas such as communication, listening, empathy, teamwork, creativity, problem-solving and leadership, among others. It examines how organisations are investing in their people through professional development and skills training. It also explores if the initiative goes beyond the mandatory training that organisations enforce; are both interpersonal and technical skills getting equal priority; and, perhaps most importantly, how does the quality of these opportunities impact performance and retention?

Key insights
As many as 74% of the respondents in the report say their organisations offer professional development for employees; just 35% say their companies offer soft skills training. This shows a gap. Meanwhile, 49% say their employer offers opportunities for learning and development that are outside the ambit of the mandatory training for work. Stressing on the importance of soft skills training, about 63% of those surveyed who had received soft skills training say this kind of training had a positive impact on their professional growth.

From an organisational point of view, there is an impact on retention as professional development opportunity is said to be one of the top three triggers for leaving a company. “Soft skills are crucial for fostering effective communication, collaboration, and adaptability in the workplace,” says Mark Scullard, senior director of product innovation at Wiley. “Organisations that neglect to invest in these areas could hinder employee growth, diminish team dynamics, and potentially limit the organisation’s ability to thrive in an ever-changing business landscape.”

The report says effective communication, high emotional intelligence, adaptability, and the ability to participate in cohesive teamwork “define the foundation of soft skills which improve workplace cultures and engagement.”

Method of effective training

While in-person training often seems like the obvious choice for such training opportunities, respondents in the survey say training is provided in a variety of formats. About 28% did mention in-person training. A higher percentage of about 30% say hybrid training models had in-person and virtual sessions. Meanwhile, 20% of respondents say virtual instructor-led training and another 20% spoke about virtual self-directed training.

Most respondents rate in-person training highly. This can be an important lever for leaders planning the best way to organise such programmes for their employees.

Not just the method of training, the time spent on training is also a critical factor to ensure people are able to imbibe the learnings and use them to enhance their skills. A key gap was highlighted here with 60% of those surveyed mentioning that they spend about 2 hours per month or less on professional development. This shows a scope for training enhancement.

The report focuses on insights from 2,070 individuals in North America across industries with 56% of them having people reporting to them and 36% of them being individual contributors.

The way forward

Overall, the report cautions that neglecting to invest in these areas could hinder employee growth, impact team dynamics and also limit a company’s ability to thrive in the changing business environment.

It recommends engaging assessment and facilitated learning experiences for such programmes as they provide structured frameworks and assessment to help people understand behavioural tendencies, communication styles and interpersonal dynamics.


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