How Soft Skills in the Workplace Can Make or Break Your Business

Posted by Des Sinkevich on September 20, 2022

When hiring new employees or training current ones, there’s often a focus on the acquisition of hard, or technical, skills. Soft skills, on the other hand, can often be overlooked in the workplace even though they are an essential indicator of success on the job. In some industries, especially those that are more people-facing like healthcare, retail, and food service, soft skills can actually make or break your business. That’s why it’s vital to both company and worker success to place more emphasis on acquiring or growing these skills.

barista arranging pastries at cafe.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills, a term that became trendy in the business world several years ago, often refers to the set of abilities we’d consider “people skills.” They’re the skills that can allow an employee to fit in with a new team, work well with others, and become a successful leader. The skills that we consider “soft” include

  • Teamwork
  • Adaptability and flexibility
  • Written and verbal communication
  • Emotional intelligence

While transferrable to almost any job in any industry, these skills are especially important to consider when you’re hiring for roles that work directly with patients or customers, or as part of a larger, codependent team.

Why are soft skills important in the workplace?

To some hiring managers, soft skills can be more of a “plus” than a need when interviewing potential employees. After all, someone who is working as a medical assistant needs certain hard skills to qualify for a job and, if they have the correct credentials and experience, it must be assumed that they have what they need to be successful on the job. But even the most skilled worker with the most prestigious credentials can be a poor employee and damage your business in less obvious ways if they don’t have strong soft skills.

Without soft skills like the ability to receive feedback and adapt, employees are more prone to workplace issues due to miscommunication or an inability to work well with others on the team. Employees may also be more difficult to train and prepare for work at your company because they aren’t used to being adaptable.

A lack of soft skills, particularly emotional intelligence, can also have a negative impact on your company's culture and retention. A Yale study found that 70% of employees who thought their managers or supervisors lacked emotional intelligence were more likely to have negative feelings toward their work and employer.

Besides internal conflicts, a lack of strong soft skills can negatively affect the customer experience. For example, in the retail sector, strong customer service can mean the difference between a lifelong customer and a negative review. A worker who can easily identify problems, work to solve them, and show empathy and understanding to even the most frustrating customer will often be your most successful salesperson.

How softs skills can benefit your business

While a lack of soft skills among your employees can lead to problems, strong soft skills can make a huge impact on positivity, productivity, and retention at your company. Workers who possess these essential skills can better fit in with a team, work closely with others, and take constructive criticism. For workers in any industry, acquiring strong soft skills can improve productivity by 14.5% overall.

In industries in which soft skills are essential to day-to-day operations, such as retail, workers with strong soft skills can improve business. For many consumers who have endless options – digital and brick and mortar – when it comes to making purchases, interaction with a customer service representative can make or break their opinion of your brand. 68% of consumers say it’s vital to their experience to interact with an employee who is engaged and able to understand and meet their needs. If the consumer feels their needs aren’t being met or that the salesperson or customer service rep isn’t focused, empathetic, and knowledgeable, they’re more likely to leave a negative review and take their business elsewhere.

Soft skills can be even more important in healthcare, where handling patients – and their concerns and fears – with empathy and understanding is vital to providing quality care. While many healthcare workers do enter the profession with the motivation of helping others and the belief they already have the skills necessary to do so, communication and emotional intelligence may be skills they still need to develop to truly be an asset to your team. But, by ensuring your workers do build these necessary soft skills, you can be more confident that your organization can meet the needs of patients.

At the end of the day, whatever your industry, ensuring you hire employees with strong soft skills and help your current staff build these skills can only benefit your company. Through encouraging soft skills development, you can improve

  • Worker productivity
  • Worker engagement
  • Company culture
  • Employee retention
  • Your bottom line

How to improve your employees’ soft skills

You know soft skills will be essential to growing your business and ensuring its continued success. But soft skills don’t come naturally to everyone and many of your employees may need additional training. However, it may seem difficult to train people to be more empathetic or to have more emotional intelligence. How can you teach ideas to employees who don’t already have the foundations of these skills in place?

Just like with learning hard skills, developing soft skills merely takes time, interest, and motivation. While your human resources or training team may not have the time to offer dedicated classes on communication, teamwork, and other relevant skills, your company can offer soft skills classes as part of a professional development or education benefits program.

Through an online course like Career Readiness Bootcamp offered by Penn Foster, your employees will build or refresh necessary interpersonal skills. In interactive, online modules, workers can learn more about being effective leaders, strategies for working well with others, and how to communicate effectively with their team or supervisors. Short and straightforward, the program is designed to prepare even the most experienced worker for navigating the workplace and professional relationships and can be completed outside of work hours.

Besides ensuring that your workers have the necessary skills to excel in their roles, offering professional development opportunities can also build stronger relationships between your company and its employees. The more opportunities people have to access education and training through their employer, the happier they are in their roles and with the company. And, with the chance to grow their skills and expertise, they often feel more supported by their employer, leading to more engagement and satisfaction at work. In turn, that leads to lower turnover rates, saving the company money over time.

New to offering education opportunities and benefits in your workplace? Learn more about the best practices for implementing a successful workforce development program then reach out to our training experts today to find out more about how you can offer education and training to your employees.