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Soft Skills Importance: The Catalyst to Success in the Modern Workplace

9 min read

Nestor - Importance of Soft Skills: The Catalyst to Success in the Modern Workplace

Historically, hard or technical skills have been regarded as the most important and desirable abilities. But an array of factors and developments, from the pandemic and hybrid work to AI and automation, have already started a shift, which will see the importance of soft skills recognized by more and more people and HR managers everywhere.

Data from LinkedIn’s Workplace Learning Report 2023 already highlights that 3 out of the top 5 skills that companies need the most are soft skills (management, communication, and leadership). And this trend will only accelerate in the future.

So let’s take a closer look at what soft skills are, why they have become so relevant, and their potential impact and role in the future of work.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are the human-centric abilities that enable employees to communicate effectively with their peers and form strong professional relationships that nurture collaboration and a sense of community at work.

They are also referred to as people skills or human skills — the latter being preferred by Simon Sinek, who argues that calling them “soft” in contrast to hard skills makes them look like opposites, when, in reality, both are needed to perform well in the workplace.

The use of power skills instead of soft skills is a more recent development, which seems to have emerged in the current context of hybrid and remote work environments. The idea behind this new trend is to highlight that these human-centric skills are critical and there’s nothing soft about them, therefore their importance shouldn’t be overlooked.

Soft skills relevant in 2023

A full list of soft skills would not only be very long but would also include certain elements, such as leadership skills, which arguably deserve to be treated separately given their unique importance. Instead, let’s briefly explore some of the human skills that are more relevant than ever in 2023:

  • Adaptability: Both employers and employees need to become more open to change, be ready to adjust to new situations, and demonstrate flexibility in response to adversity and evolving circumstances.
  • Problem-solving: As the author Mark Manson argues, happiness comes from solving problems. And this applies to work as well. Therefore, modern workers need to prove they can analyze challenges, identify potential solutions, and make informed decisions that lead to positive results.
  • Critical thinking: The ability to think critically goes hand in hand with problem-solving and decision-making. It’s a must-have skill through which people can evaluate information and situations objectively and improve their logical judgments.
  • Cultural awareness: Working well in multicultural environments is becoming increasingly important nowadays. That’s why organizations need to create cultures where workers from multiple generations and backgrounds value and respect their diverse perspectives and customs and adapt their communication styles accordingly.
  • Networking: Nurturing an agile workforce, in which knowledge sharing and collaboration are the pillars for success, relies on the ability to encourage and build healthy professional relationships, not only between peers, but also between employees and managers, employees and mentors or coaches, and so on.
  • Stress management: In a world where 90% of workers are affected by mental health challenges, either directly or indirectly, managing stress in a healthy and effective way has become essential for both personal and professional well-being.
  • Empathy: Empathy is all about being able and willing to consider and understand the feelings, perspectives, and needs of others. In the workplace, this can manifest in the form of managers taking interest in their team members’ personal interests and challenges or in the form of workers seeking positive and considerate ways of dealing with conflicts or negative results.

Importance of soft skills: why they are considered the skills of the future

The following are some of the most important reasons why soft skills are considered — are rightfully so — the skills of the future:

Soft skills are transferable

The inherent transferability of soft skills makes them fundamental in a volatile job market, where roles and expectations can change in a matter of years.

By hiring candidates with these skills and further developing them, organizations will nurture resilient workforces, which are able to upskill or reskill based on rapidly changing business needs.

For companies considering a transition to an agile workforce model, soft skills are an invaluable asset, which will help employees switch tasks and projects easily and assemble in dynamic teams that respond effectively to emerging trends and disruptions.

As for employees, developing a wide range of soft skills will help them transition easier to different job roles, departments, or even industries — especially relevant in a world where lateral moves or non-linear career paths are becoming increasingly common.

Soft skills make the difference in an AI-driven world

The importance of soft skills will only increase as the definition of work is rewritten by the Fourth Industrial Revolution and AI developments — which are already taking the world by storm.

A consequence of automation and robots replacing some (repetitive) tasks is that more complex assignments and projects, that involve a human touch, will take the front seat.

In this new world of work, solving challenging problems through collaboration and soft skills, like creativity and adaptability, will become the new way in which employees create and provide value.

Soft skills enable organizations to navigate complex situations

In intricate situations, such as technological disruptions, organizational changes, or socio-economic tensions, employees who possess strong soft skills will be the ones to ease transitions and address any resistance expressed by other peers.

This agility, combined with emotional intelligence and open-mindedness will also fuel innovation, leading to unexpected breakthroughs, and ensuring that your organization remains capable of thriving even in the face of adversity.

Soft skills improve work relationships

Power skills also determine, to a large extent, how well individuals connect with their colleagues and build trust. This is essential in creating a sense of belonging and aligning personal values with organizational ones.

Of course, trust also determines the quality of interactions between managers and their people, and is the basis for honest feedback sessions and one-on-one meetings.

Soft skills support collaboration and teamwork

In an increasingly interconnected and globalized work environment, where virtual teams are more common than ever before, soft skills play a critical role in bridging cultural (or generational) gaps and facilitating smooth interactions.

Having these unique power skills within your organization will enable employees from various backgrounds to work as cohesive teams, which take advantage of different strengths and perspectives and use them to overcome challenges.

Soft skills nurture a growth mindset

Continuous learning, or the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn, will become one of the defining traits of tomorrow’s workers. It’s enough to look at the statistics to understand why. For example, the World Economic Forum argues that by 2030, we will need to reskill more than 1 billion people.

In this context, soft skills play a pivotal role in cultivating a growth mindset, which enables employees to embrace challenges and see them as opportunities for growth.

As industries are transforming, organizations will need people with a growth mindset and strong human skills, who have the ability to innovate, remain adaptable, and maintain their performance and productivity even when job roles and demands keep updating.

Soft skills increase brand loyalty

The interpersonal value of soft skills also comes up during interactions with customers. Organizations that empathize with their audiences — customers, partners, or employees — and hire (and train) people who display the same attitudes and behaviors will create a stronger sense of loyalty over time.

Importance of soft skills for leaders

When it comes to leadership positions, having strong soft skills will only become more important, both now and in the (short-term) future. That’s because newer generations who are joining the workforce, like Gen Zers, place a lot more value on:

  • a sense of purpose
  • meaningful and challenging work
  • professional and personal fulfillment

Meeting these expectations requires leaders to use skills like empathy, active listening, and emotional intelligence to connect with their teams on a deeper level and truly understand their needs and concerns. This is the only way to create a culture of trust and respect, which supports the morale and engagement of employees.

Soft skills will also come in handy in the process of mitigating misunderstandings, which can arise in a workplace where up to 5 generations — from the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers to Millennials and Gen Z — need to collaborate and work effectively in cross-functional teams.

Of course, leaders in any role also have the responsibility to create a positive and productive environment, which brings out the best in people and leads to organizational success. To achieve that, they need to lead by example and inspire others through motivational abilities and effective communication.

Finally, people in leadership positions — perhaps more than any other employee — need to remain open to diverse, sometimes even conflicting, perspectives and adaptable to change, which can only happen by acquiring and developing a strong set of soft skills.

Importance of soft skills for future roles

Although the rapid expansion of technology and automation is bound to replace some tasks, and in time, even full roles, it will mostly be those that require hard or technical skills.

Soft skills, on the other hand, are much more difficult to replace, at least for now. That’s because replicating human emotion and touch is challenging. While this could also happen in the future, the initial phase of the AI revolution will see most jobs demanding the soft skills necessary to remain adaptable and solve more complex problems.

Having and developing soft skills will also become a priority for organizations that want to become more agile and understand the importance of constantly upskilling and reskilling their workers through learning and development opportunities. This will not only keep them relevant and productive but will also improve overall efficiency and business outcomes.

Final thoughts

Taking a look into the future, the world of work is set to become more complex, interconnected, and technologically advanced. In this world, soft skills will be the vital element that connects employee and organizational success.

Businesses and individuals who recognize the importance of these power skills early on, and start working and acquiring or expanding them, will be in a much better position to remain relevant and thrive in the face of uncertainty.

If you want to gain a full understanding of the power skills within your organization and establish a common language for skills at work, a soft skills taxonomy is a great starting point.

Make smart, fast, and confident decisions with Nestor's skills-based talent management solutions

Make smart, fast, and confident decisions with Nestor's skills-based talent management solutions