11 Top Soft Skills in the Workplace to Increase the Efficiency of Your Workforce
You hired an engineer whose resume was a perfect fit.
Cleared the technical test ✅
Aced the managerial round ✅
Good communication in the interview ✅
But when they joined the project, they found collaborating in a hybrid work environment hard. The deliverables went out way slower than expected, and client emails (not the good ones) started flowing in.
So while technically they seemed the best choice, from a soft skill perspective, there is still a long way to go.
And there's a reason why: you can't assess soft skills comprehensively in a 60-minute interview.
So then, the only way left to ensure your workforce is not stumbling because of these soft skill gaps is to train them.
In this article, we'll explore:
- The 11 top soft skills for any workplace to help you build a workforce that can achieve your organization's goals.
- How to best train these skills.
- Three best practices so you don't make the mistakes others are making.
🖥️ What are soft skills?
Soft or interpersonal or people skills are non-technical abilities related to how individuals interact, communicate, and work effectively with others.
They include traits like empathy, adaptability, teamwork, and problem-solving, which are essential for building relationships and achieving success in the workplace.
For instance, good communication is an essential soft skill. It helps individuals convey their message effectively.
🗣️11 Top soft skills to develop in your organization
We went through the below six industry reports to bring you a list of the most in-demand soft skills and recommended courses to develop each skill.
- Linkedin 2023 In-demand skills
- Coursera Job skills of 2023
- Closing the Skills Gap 2023 from Wiley University Services
- Michael Page 2023 survey
- Pearson's skills outlook
- ZipRecruiter's The Job Market Outlook for Grads
Whether it's a client demo or a sales call, how an employee conveys information turns around the entire outcome.
Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn, two American writers, did an interesting experiment named Significant Objects in 2009. They purchased $128 worth of thrift store items and hired writers to produce a story about each item. Then they placed all items on sale on eBay.
The items sold for more than $3,600. The story alone increased the returns by over 28 times.
Undoubtedly, storytelling is a much-needed skill. It is the art of using stories to communicate the message and connect with employees, customers, or other stakeholders.
Why is this skill first on our list?
We have a small story on storytelling (pun intended).
When we asked our team internally if anyone had ever attended a session on storytelling in their corporate career, there was silence in the room. This anecdote tells how much this skill is underrated and often put low priority in training programs.
But when developed by employees, it can give huge returns in the long run.
The second obvious choice on the list is communication–the ability to effectively convey ideas, thoughts, or information.
But even though it sounds like an evident skill to refine, organizations aren't there yet.
The hidden cost of poor communication in US businesses alone is $1.2 trillion.
Miscommunication often happens at the leadership level when leaders:
- Fail to set clear expectations.
- Avoiding difficult conversations.
- Mishandle conflicts.
Miscommunication also happens at the ground level, where employees struggle to communicate their message to team members or stakeholders.
Cut down the hidden loss because of these miscommunications by training employees.
The next building block of a great workplace is strong leadership: the capability to lead employees or team members to achieve organizational goals.
A current industry trend is that as soon as employees move up the ladder, it's assumed they are ready to take up a leadership role.
But it's far from the truth.
Gallup's research reveals that only one in ten people possess the talent to manage. Experience alone is not enough.
Leadership training transforms an individual contributor into a leader.
Good leadership alone does not create high-performance teams. You will find enough individual employees who are star performers but not team players. They lack teamwork skills.
Teamwork is the ability to collaborate effectively in a team, build relationships, and contribute to a positive team dynamic.
At the core, businesses are about solving problems. A great work culture or strong leadership won't get results if employees don't have problem-solving skills or the analytical ability to analyze the issues and implement effective solutions.
In a recent survey of 1000 decision-makers, 41% said the junior staff doesn't get enough training in problem-solving skills. Leaders have already started to highlight the need for this training.
With the fast-changing economy and consumers, flexibility or the ability to re-prioritize and pivot improves organizations' performance drastically. For instance, it's no secret how many businesses were on the verge of closing at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. The ones who pivoted on time are the ones who survived.
Likewise, employees who can respond to changing customer, business needs, competition, economy, and leadership changes are an asset to the organization.
Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, says the top reasons people resist change are:
- Fearing a loss of control.
- Having concerns about their competencies with the change of work.
- Seeing change as a failure and not accepting it.
Training equips employees to handle such situations better.
Resilience training is an excellent way to improve worker flexibility.
By developing resilience, employees learn to adapt to change, manage stress, and bounce back from setbacks more effectively.
As a result, they will be able to:
- Cope with evolving workplace demands.
- Respond to new challenges.
- Remain productive in the face of uncertainty, ultimately enhancing their overall flexibility.
Time management at work is the proficiency to:
- Prioritize tasks.
- Set and meets deadlines.
- Dividing time efficiently.
A thought-provoking study by Microsoft shows that 81% of employees need help from managers to prioritize their workload.
But, even more interesting is that 74% of managers need help prioritizing their work.
Learning to manage time and priorities can be a tough nut to crack.
Some guidance in it will boost productivity at the workplace straight away.
Building work relationships
Employees with the skills to build relationships at work collaborate well with team members resulting in positive team dynamics. But making good work relationships is easier said than done. An employee has to:
- Understand changing work dynamics.
- Communicate with diverse groups effectively.
- Nurture trust.
- Handle tough conversations.
- Deal with difficult colleagues.
- …and more.
With training, employees learn how to tackle all the above situations.
Persuasion is the art of influencing someone's actions or beliefs. It is a skill that matters for multiple roles.
Leaders persuade team members toward organizational goals.
The sales team is persuading potential customers.
The marketing team is persuading buyers.
Despite its importance, persuasion is not a skill taught in schools. But you can train employees who will use the skill to get business results.
Ability to work virtually
Michelle Parry-Slater, Learning & Development Director at Kairos Modern Learning, says:
"At the moment, the challenges organizations are facing are in building skills of managing remote workers, understanding how to hold hybrid meetings, grappling with wellbeing and diversity agendas."
Working remotely from home or any location other than the office is a skill most employees rushed to gain over the pandemic. Now, it is time to polish them for the best results.
Ability to work in a diverse environment
Every individual has biases, i.e., preconceived notions they believe to be true.
For example, one common bias is that older people are not tech-savvy.
When you have a diverse workforce with employees from different backgrounds, gender, orientations, and culture, the only way to tackle these biases is to bring awareness through diversity training.
Diversity skills make employees more accepting of colleagues from different backgrounds. It also helps them understand others' needs and accept different viewpoints.
➡️ Check out part 1 of this series for the list of must-have hard skills in the workplace.
🤵♂️ 7 Reasons why soft skills training will add a competitive edge to your organization
Strengthen team dynamics
The collective of all the soft skills or competencies you are training employees on, like effective communication, collaboration, and the ability to work virtually or in a diverse environment, will improve team dynamics and help team members collaborate better.
Improved employee engagement
Investing in employees and showing potential for career development & growth are top drivers of employee engagement. It is a good sign for both overall productivity and talent retention.
Leadership is a critical competency that needs an extensive training framework. By training leaders, you help them set better expectations, provide feedback, and lead the team effectively.
Increased creativity and innovation
Training gives employees new tools to experiment with, increasing innovation in the workplace.
Create equal workplaces
Diversity training will be a step toward more inclusion, where no employees feel left out, and everyone has equal opportunities.
A study by MIT Sloan found that a 12-month soft skills training trial in five factories yielded a 250% ROI in just eight months.
Great leadership, smooth collaboration, and clear communication, all these benefits trickle down to revenue.
Hard skills are incomplete without soft skills
Most jobs need a mix of multiple skills (hard or job-related skills and soft skills).
For example, an engineer with excellent technical knowledge who can't collaborate well with a team won't get you the expected results.
Nor a salesperson who is an expert at Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools but can't negotiate with customers.
➡️ Track down a list of essential competencies from our competency database to build a world-class team. Also, get ways to assess and develop each competency.
💡 7 Steps to launching a soft skill training program
Get the current skill status
A critical thing about soft skills or competency development is not to assume someone already holds a skill, as assessing these skills is difficult.
Instead, start with the mindset: Every employee can learn something new with training.
So, first, create a list of training currently done by employees or that is already in progress.
➡️ Download a free training matrix template to capture training status in one place.
Compile a list of priorities
The next step is to find the list of priorities. We have compiled the list above, but knowing which season your organization is in also matters. For example, if you are getting poor ratings for your customer service calls, then communication training could be your priority now. Do you have a major product release coming up? Then leadership and teamwork training can be helpful.
Take the pulse of your employees
The next step is to understand what your employees want.
Where are they struggling?
Are managers struggling with giving feedback?
Is the sales team struggling to negotiate?
You can send over a training needs survey to get their requirements. Also, training is not a one-time initiative. You can encourage employees to create growth plans and define their learning paths regularly.
Start creating a training plan
You have all the inputs now: current status, priorities, and employee needs. The next is to create a training plan based on these details. To accommodate different learning styles, keep a mix of social learning, coaching, on-demand video, cohorts, instructor-led and on-the-job training like coaching or mentoring.
➡️ Thinking about how to get started? Download a free training plan template, and you are good to go.
Promote the training
Helen Buckwell, Team and Leadership Development Specialist, pinpoints one of the biggest reasons for failed training programs: companies do not promote them.
You'll find excellent courses lying in a library, and hardly ten employees know it exists.
And out of those ten employees, five do not know the benefit of training specific skills.
You don't repeat the mistake. Before launching any training or course, educate employees about the training and how it helps them.
Assign and track progress
Once the employees know the benefits of training, it's time to assign it. No need to spend hours on excel to track training.
Use a training management system (TMS) to assign or track training. It also becomes your consolidated database.
Track the effectiveness of your initiatives
Last, are employees finding the training initiatives helpful, or are you wasting the budget on the wrong programs? Get their thoughts by sending out a simple survey.
➡️ Use a ready-to-use training evaluation survey template to collect employee feedback.
💡 Tips to make soft skills training programs successful: 3 Experts weigh in
Incorporate real-life scenarios
Marla J. Albertie, an executive coach, suggests incorporating real-life scenarios into the training program and not limiting training to a fixed curriculum.
As a result, you will:
- Give participants ample opportunities to practice their skills during the training program.
- Enable facilitators to provide constructive feedback to help trainees improve.
Diversify training for different groups
Sonya Barlow, CEO of LMFNetwork, says:
"Based on our research at LMFNetwork, we found women especially feel they can't progress in the workplace due to lacking confidence, career knowledge, and community. We've upskilled more than 20,000 people in the last three years and found this a common occurrence."
Different groups at work can have different issues.
Understanding the problems and assigning training to address the specific needs of each group will bring true inclusion.
Don't train in isolation
Rob Smith, an executive coach, says:
"When you train employees on a skill, you are setting a tone for the organization. For example, if I train managers on how to give effective feedback, then I request a session with the senior leadership first. Because if you only train only middle-level managers, the bad habits still remain in senior leadership, and they are not able to set great examples".
Soft skills are a huge part of company culture:
- How you communicate.
- How you give feedback.
- How you try to be inclusive.
So training only a selective group won't bring a considerable difference.
➡️ Build your people's soft skills with Zavvy
🤯 Where most L&D experts struggle with designing successful soft skills training programs are:
- Creating a holistic program at the organizational level.
- Providing enough variety of courses to address all needs.
- Having multiple course formats to address different learning styles.
- Fitting training into the entire ecosystem and tying it with performance reviews.
Zavvy addresses all your concerns 🙌
✅ Creating a holistic program at the organizational level
With Zavvy, you get a centralized LMS to manage training programs.
Managers can assign and track training in one place.
✅ Provide enough variety of courses to address all needs
No single provider can cover all your course needs.
Considering that, we have 30+ providers like Udemy, Coursera, and more to get you a regularly updated library of third-party courses.
You can find all the courses from the above list on Zavvy.
Plus, you can also create custom courses in Zavvy as per your needs.
✅ Having multiple course formats to address different learning styles
Zavvy lets you create custom courses in varied formats: on-demand video, instructor-led, or cohort. Our tie-ups with third-party course providers also have various formats of courses.
Zavvy has a wide range of courses, books, videos, events, and articles
✅ Fitting training into the entire ecosystem and tying it with performance reviews
On Zavvy, employees can create a development plan and get 360 feedback on their performance.
Employees don't come to the platform just to complete sporadic training courses but for their overall development.
Bonus: Zavvy has also created a one-stop training program: Power skills, covering all high-impact soft skills for your workforce.
Does curating tens of courses for every soft skill overwhelming?
Save time by scheduling a free demo and let Zavvy solve all your training needs.
What are the essential soft skills?
The essential soft skills are storytelling, communication, leadership, teamwork, problem-solving, flexibility, time management, working virtually, and working in a diverse environment.
What are ten soft skills in the workplace?
The top 10 examples of soft skills in the workplace are storytelling, communication, leadership, teamwork, problem-solving, creativity, flexibility, time management, the ability to work virtually, and the ability to work in a diverse environment.
What are the top 3 soft skills that are most important in the workplace?
The top 3 soft skills which can make or break a workplace are communication, teamwork, and effective leadership. Without these three, one can't imagine a business achieving its goals.
What is the importance of soft skills in the workplace?
Soft skills help individuals perform jobs at their best and collaborate well with others.
Therefore, excellent soft skills are the core pillars of high-performing organizations.
How to develop soft skills in the workplace?
The best way to develop soft skills in the workplace is to take charge and build a training plan for every soft skill. Soft skills like how you communicate or give feedback set a tone for the organization.
You can achieve uniformity in this tone through organization-wide training.
How to use soft skills in the workplace?
Communicating with prospective clients, leading a team, coordinating with team members, estimating time for a project, and managing time according to project timelines are the most common uses of soft skills in the workplace.