Training & Learning

7 Strategies for Teaching Soft Skills in the Workplace

Mastering soft skills is critical to long-term job success. Unfortunately, the UK is losing £22 billion a year by not investing in soft skills development.

Employers need to place emphasis on soft skills to build successful teams. But to do that, organisations have to understand the difference between both hard and soft skill types and how they interact. If organisations miss this critical step, they risk passing up on the many benefits their training strategies could bring.

In this article, we share seven strategies that employers can use to cultivate soft skills effectively and discuss the tools you need to truly encourage a learning environment. 

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are personal attributes that enable you to connect with other people and thrive within a team or organisation. They include qualities such as communication, social etiquette, problem-solving, critical thinking, time management, reliability, adaptability, and leadership. 

Soft skills are often referred to as transferable skills because they can be used in different settings and jobs. Today, many candidates put relevant soft skills on their resume because it gives employers an indication of the qualities they possess and how they might fit into their team.

Traditionally, soft skills have been thought to be innate or only important in customer-facing roles, but this far the case. L&D professionals should look to include soft skill training in their courses for any role in any organisation.

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What’s the difference between hard and soft skills?

A hard skill is a type of skill that’s related to job performance. This includes job-specific knowledge, technical capabilities, and trade mastery. As opposed to soft skills, which are broad skills relating to people and communication, hard skills are specific and technical. 

In the past, some employers may have seen hard skills as the more important skill set because they directly correlate with an individual's ability to complete a task. However, if employees don’t have the necessary soft skills or the opportunity to upskill in this area, many of the skills a person cultivates will be less effective or, in some cases, totally ineffective.

With this in mind, it’s important for individuals to attain a balance of hard and soft skills to be successful in their roles.

Here are two examples of how a hard skill is complimented by a soft skill:

1. Research and analysis

Being able to interpret data is a hard skill, especially if this data is gathered using analytics software. However, if a research analyst has to interview participants to gather data in a one-on-one or personal setting, they need to know how to communicate well with people. They also need to create a warm and welcoming space for participants.

2. Health diagnosis

Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals need a wide variety of hard skills to help patients, but patients will find a new care physician if there are communication problems. If physicians want to keep their patients, they need to show mutual respect and humble themselves when a patient disagrees with them.

It’s also common for people to confuse hard skills with soft skills. This can make it difficult for employers to find candidates to fill specific job roles, as they don’t know what’s required.

Here are two examples of hard skills that are mistaken for soft skills:

1. People-oriented skills

People skills are the ultimate soft skill, but they can turn into a hard skill depending on an individual's role. For example, anyone working in marketing and sales will sell more if they understand human psychology. A real estate agent won’t be able to sell a house unless they have incredible negotiation and persuasion skills.

2. Creativity skills

While creativity is a soft skill that can improve various hard skills, it’s also a hard skill in and of itself. A graphic designer can only make a professionally designed collage on a tool if they know how to use it. At the same time, writers, video editors, and photographers won’t be able to maximise their creativity without using software.

To teach soft skills successfully in your workplace, you have to understand how soft skills interact with hard skills. Then, you can develop a strategy that complements both skill types.

5 reasons why soft skills development is critical at work

Hiring a person who has exceptional soft skills is important, but is there any benefit to an organisation that’s willing to teach these skills internally? Here are five reasons why you should focus on encouraging soft skill development.

1. Inspires employees to take initiative

Today, organisations need to embrace change to stay ahead of the competition. If your employees are trained in various soft skills, they won’t be afraid of change management and will go above and beyond to take on new projects and drive initiatives. They’ll also feel more confident and encouraged to try new things.

2. Leads to increased employee retention

Pandemic stressors are still a running issue, and 95% of employees polled in a survey carried out by Humu say that bad managers are making the problem worse. If managers learned more soft skills, they could better empathise with employees, thus increasing employee retention.

3. Improves in-organisational teamwork

Without collaboration and cooperation, working on a team is nearly impossible. If someone in your organisation is causing tension because of their inability to get along with their team, consider training up their soft skills. It’s cheaper than hiring and onboarding a new employee.

4. Improves customer and client relationships

Customers are necessary for any business to function. Soft skills are obviously needed in client-facing roles, but employees who never interact with clients still need these skills. Clients may interact with them on sites like LinkedIn, and they must know how to conduct themselves and represent the company in the way you want them to.

5. Increases sales and return on investment 

Soft skills can be leveraged to increase sales, even if upselling isn’t a part of your strategy. If customers are happy, they’re more likely to be loyal and purchase from you exclusively (or more often). With soft skills, all employees can build strong customer relationships from the start.

7 strategies for teaching soft skills in the workplace

There are several strategies employers can use to adequately train soft skills in the workplace. The better your strategy, the more likely you are to cash in on the benefits of needed soft skills. Here are seven ways to help you get started.

1. Start by hiring people willing to learn

When it’s time to hire a new employee, focus on individuals who have a willingness to learn. This goes beyond education-based credentials or a lack of movement within a company, as they may not have had the opportunity to explore these paths. Instead, assess their personality.

A person who is adaptable to change, listens to others' perspectives, and is open to new ideas is more inclined to learn. Millennials and Gen Z, in particular, have frequently been recognised as being very interested in skill development.

2. Provide a skills assessment after hiring

A training needs analysis allows employers to identify gaps in an employee’s skill set. Ask questions related to necessary soft skills, such as how well they’re able to work with team members or customers. Then, ask them what skills they’d like to grow while with the company.

Keep in mind that employees may not be honest here, as they may be worried this assessment will look bad on them. It’s important to stress to employees that it’s ok to have particular skills they think need improving and schedule regular feedback sessions to build trust and discuss gaps in performance, enabling you to train more effectively.

3. Cultivate a learning mindset within your team

Incentivising a learning mindset isn’t as tricky as it seems. It simply requires rewarding team members who complete programmes successfully. However, employers can run this point home if they lead by example and create time and space for employees to learn new skills while they’re at work.

4. Leverage your learning management system (LMS)

Finding an LMS that works for your business is the key to creating a learning culture. The best LMS software leverages a collaborative learning environment, allowing internal subject-matter experts to easily share their knowledge with their peers to help organisations upskill from within.

This approach of encouraging team members to learn and teach from each other allows people to hone one of the most important soft skills in itself: collaboration. The right LMS can further support your employees' soft skills development.

5. Personalise the entire learning experience

Evidence shows that personalised learning improves achievement for students, no matter their starting level. Employers who focus on microlearning strategies, such as videos, infographics, gamification, podcasts, geofencing, and simulations, tend to be more effective for learners.

With that said, you need to pair the right microlearning strategy with the right person if you want it to be effective. You can survey learners to understand how they learn the best, or present content in many forms, so employees can choose how they learn.

6. Incorporate mentorship, cross-training, or team learning 

Mentorship, cross-training, and team learning can bolster your upskilling goals. Not only will employees get to learn from an expert, but they also get to build relationships with their fellow workers. This makes team-based projects a breeze to implement on personal and technical fronts.

7. Offer opportunities for practice, reflection, and feedback

You have to practice a skill to refine it, so make sure you give your employees tasks that encourage the use of their new skills. This helps them reflect on their next steps. Finally, provide regular feedback that’s both corrective and encouraging, as this helps with employee motivation.

Start training your employees in soft skills today

Soft skills are essential in all industries, and employers need to do their part to encourage soft skill development in the workplace. Once you take the steps to encourage your teams to develop their soft skills, you’ll instantly notice a more productive, content workforce that supports growth and customer engagement.

A platform like 360Learning can take your soft skills training programme to new heights thanks to its collaborative learning approach. Get in touch with a learning specialist to see how.