The level of importance regarding the ‘intangible’ or ‘soft’ elements within the workplace has been the cause of some debate over the years. Intangible qualities refer to aspects that combine the social and character traits of an individual, such as:
-Being able to work within a team
-Adaptability and interpersonal skills
-Management and communication proficiencies
-Ability to persevere and deal with issues such as stress
They are, according to the dictionary, the ‘personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people’.
These transferable skills are, however, often hard to quantify. Imagine scoring people from one to ten on their ability to integrate with others- there is no logical or fair way you can achieve this and, as a result, such skills are often put aside to make way for the quantifiable technical skills employees boast.
Unlike soft skills, hard skills can be identified effortlessly in that they are either known/learnt or not. For instance, you can use coding or programming, or you can’t; you have learnt a second language, or you haven’t; you have a degree, or you don’t. You put down your education credentials on your CV, and it is easy to see what level you are at academically in a given field. And, more importantly, it is quick and easy for your employer to see whether or not you can do a particular job already or are in need of further training.
Hard skills were/are not only easier to measure, but for decades were deemed as more important than soft skills. In a study conducted by Anick Tolbize from the University of Minnesota, entitled ‘Generational Differences in the Workplace’, the ‘Silent’ generation (those born before 1945) were not only known for their consistency and uniformity, but also sought out ‘technological advancement (…) command-and-control leadership reminiscent of military operations, and [crucially] preferred hierarchical organisational structures’. Hard skills provided the perfect material to measure people and place them in an organisational structure. It did not matter that John could not talk to women, or Sarah had the emotional aptitude of a grape, they had the hard skills and technical know-how to work their way up the ladder.
Changes in Education
Today, however, there is a change in the air. Unlike ye olden days, when one gifted teenager from each town went off to university, today most people either have a degree or is in the process of getting one. In a report by Rachael Pells, a writer for the Independent, a ‘quarter of students at UK universities now graduate with a first-class degree’ and, in a further report by the Census Bureau, 33.4 percent of Americans age 25 and older now have a bachelor’s degree or postgraduate certificate.
A decade ago, only 28 percent had a college degree, let alone a BA. In fact, as our generation gets academically smarter, a BA has become less of an addition to a glowing CV but an expected requirement. As a result, and in an attempt to create a more attractive résumé, the numbers of students gaining an MA or PhD has risen. In fact, according to the London School of Economics, ‘in 1996, just 4% of working Britons aged 26 to 60 had a postgraduate qualification’. Now 11% (2.1 million people) have one.
Gone are the days where hard skills were a rarity. 500 people with the same qualifications and hard skill-sets will now battle it out for the same job. But guess what the triumphant applicant will have above the other 499 applicants…you got it…a highly developed set of interpersonal skills! As Klint Finley argues ‘in the way that the Industrial Revolution made many manual labour tasks obsolete, the Knowledge Revolution is automating technical tasks like accounting, computation, and even some written tasks. Consequently, many of the hard skills you learn in school quickly become irrelevant’ and the intangible skills take precedence.
A Bit of Both
Today you have to be well adept with both sets. In fact, while hard skills can easily be highlighted within a CV, soft skills are frequently examined in the form of an interview, in which the interviewee can judge your interpersonal skills and so on. Of course, there is no formula for measuring qualities such as empathy, but you can grasp an understanding for the character of a person by watching for elements such as:
-Whether or not they assist others in a group project, or overpower them.
-If they open the door for you, or not.
-If eye contact is good.
-They shake your hand.
You could have all the technical know-how in the world, but without the right attitude, you can only go so far.
But WHY are soft skills important within the working environment you may ask? And WHY is it so crucial for businesses/organisations to get the ‘soft stuff’ right? That is exactly what we aim to discover over the course of the next two months within our ‘Staff Experience’ breakdown.
We will be analysing and quantifying a multitude of elements that constitute as ‘the soft stuff’ and how you can utilise such features to better your business through qualitative data analysis. We will tackle issues including, and not limited to;
-How the level of morale can affect employees and their productivity. (Read ‘Boosting Morale in the Workplace- Not Just Ducklings and Cake‘ or, for a closer analysis into morale within healthcare, read ‘How to Improve Staff Morale in Hospitals‘).
-How to build a sense of belonging in the workplace. (Read ‘How to Achieve Staff Belonging in the Workplace‘. Or, for a deeper look into the psychology behind society’s need to belong, read ‘An Innate Sense of Belonging‘).
– The importance of autonomy and the effects a lack of autonomy has on business. (Read ‘The Madness of Micromanaging, and an Overwhelming Cry for Autonomy‘).
– Organising management, and how qualitative data analysis moulds it. (Read ‘How Data Analysis Moulds Better Management‘).
– How to measure success and create a happier workforce. (Read ‘Employee development plans and Why We Need More of Them‘. Or, to reveal what most companies are getting wrong and how to solve it, read ‘How To Encourage Staff Development‘.
– The cruciality of a good workplace culture and its hidden rules. ( Read ‘What Exactly is Workplace Culture? The Unspoken Rules’).
– How to get the most from your staff. (Read ‘How Can Staff Add More Value to Business?‘).
-Burnt out, overworked or just dedicated? How to spot the difference. (Dedicated Workforce, or Overworked Workaholics?, You Decide.)
– How to identify and keep loyal employees. (Read ‘How to Measure and Improve Staff Loyalty’).
– How generational differences may affect your organisational development.(Read ‘Stuck in The Middle With You. Gender Issues, Cross Generations, and the Importance of Listening‘).
The importance of a good work/life balance. Read ‘Technical Cornwall, Not Just Pasties and Sand‘).
As well as investigating attitudes towards working, communication, recognition, productivity and much more.
To find out how the intangible elements within your organisation can be improved, and to discover the impact they have on your business/organisation, contact Pansensic today for a demo.