Updated: January 19, 2024

Employee Soft Skills: The Ultimate Guide

You found our list of employee soft skills.

Employee soft skills are interpersonal abilities that help workers relate to one another. Soft skills include communication, listening, and leadership qualities. The purpose of these skills is to assist team members with their workplace interactions with other associates.

You can learn more about important employee soft skills by reading about developing workplace resilience and exploring helpful tips for successful leadership. You can also touch on the significance of collaboration skills when discussing soft skills with your team.

employee-soft-skills

This list includes:

  • examples of employee soft skills
  • ways to improve employee soft skills
  • ways to measure employee soft skills
  • importance of employee soft skills

Here we go!

Examples of employee soft skills

Hard skills like math, deductive reasoning, and tech knowledge are more academic and require training when workers take on new roles. In contrast, soft skills are often a natural part of an employee’s personality, though workers can develop these abilities through learning and practice. Effective communication, active listening, and time management are examples of employee soft skills. These abilities guide worker interactions and are key to creating enriching workplace experiences. For example, suppose you think about a worker who excels at remaining calm under pressure, training other team members, and simplifying complex concepts. In that case, you are thinking about an employee with exceptional soft skills.

Some examples include:

  • Written communication
  • Verbal communication
  • Leadership
  • Time management
  • Planning and organization
  • Adaptability
  • Critical thinking
  • Crisis and conflict management
  • Empathy
  • Active listening
  • Problem-solving

These qualities relate primarily to a worker’s ability to regulate their behavior. This terminology is a fancy way of saying that employees with soft skills can approach various work situations with the proper internal tools for success. Because these traits are more personal than professional abilities, they are useful in work and nonwork situations. The combined value of these valuable traits makes soft skills an important aspect of an employee’s overall profile.

How these abilities help

As with other tools, having more soft skills provides a greater range of potential solutions. Many workers exhibit multiple abilities that complement one another. For example, a strong critical thinker may also be a powerful problem-solver. A worker with high adaptability may also be adept at planning and organization. These combined abilities produce a cause-and-effect relationship that elevates both skills. Workers with soft skills that appear out of balance may simply need a bit of practice to enhance their skill set.

Soft skills are advantageous in situations where workers interact with one another. Communicating clearly in written and verbal forms is one of an employee’s most important qualities. No matter the task, the ability to convey necessary information to others helps the work go more smoothly. Active listening, in which the listener asks questions and acknowledges understanding, is another competency that provides an advantage in team scenarios. Other techniques like time management, leading a group, and maintaining a level head in times of stress are valuable capabilities for workers from entry-level to the executive suite.

​What these qualities look like

Soft skills are very similar to personality traits. Often, employees will have an innate talent for effective communication or dealing with difficult situations. These individuals are an excellent fit for roles that involve interacting with clients or external contacts. Problem solvers on the team may stand out as natural critical thinkers, ready to solve work-based puzzles. Creative thinkers might see several solutions to a task, preventing them from getting stuck or frustrated. A worker may show strength in one specific area or exhibit strength in a combination of abilities. Even workers who may not naturally display high levels of these qualities can improve. By helping workers identify their aptitudes and sharing methods for refining their weaker points, you can enhance your team’s ability to work together while fine-tuning their individual contributions.

Ways to improve employee soft skills

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1. Help workers enhance their natural skills

While many workers are naturals when interacting with others effectively, employees needing improvement can sharpen their abilities and add to their talents. Development can be as simple as providing your team with the right tools. For example, apps that help users manage tasks and minimize stress will inform workers of their habits and guide them toward more desirable behaviors. Seminars that teach business writing will strengthen written communication, while workshops on verbal interaction and professional presentation can improve spoken communication. Surprising forums, like improv classes, offer controlled scenarios where workers can practice interactions to develop a greater sense of empathy in group situations. For every ability a worker can exhibit, a tool or resource exists to help them enhance it.

Here is a list of professional development ideas.

2. Use peer-to-peer mentoring

Leaders can take several approaches when helping their workers improve. One of the easiest methods is peer mentoring. In a peer mentoring program, a team member needing improvement or practice pairs up with a team member who excels at that particular skill. For example, an employee who is unable to write clearly may pair up with a more talented writer on the team. This mentoring gives the employee needing help a chance to learn from a peer who excels at the technique in question.

Similarly, a worker who could use help with negotiating may pair up with a master negotiator to better understand how the process works. This sort of training provides a role model for the worker to follow. In addition, having an associate explain their approach to these tasks offers the worker needing improvement a comfortable resource to pose questions. For a more group-oriented version of peer mentoring, meetings in which subject matter experts from the team share their approach will allow a larger session where many workers can get assistance simultaneously.

Here are mentorship program ideas.

3. Bring in experts to assist

Engaging professional assistance for workers to learn from is another effective way to enhance these talents. With onsite experts such as HR representatives who can speak to improvement methods, workers interact with specialists in person for maximum learning. Employees can ask questions about their own abilities and receive one-on-one guidance for specialized personal development. This sort of personalized learning will help employees identify their strengths and create a plan to address their weaknesses. An ongoing series of sessions works best for making sure workers have a clear understanding of their goals. If onsite meetings present a challenge, then live virtual sessions will offer similar interactive learning in an online format.

​4. Use an array of tools

Having various tools at your disposal makes developing a range of soft skills in your workers easier. You can also add new tools as you find them and schedule meetings to allow your team a chance to become familiar with these resources. Inviting workers to keep an eye out for new resources will make them aware of their responsibility for their own self-improvement.

Some tools employees can use to improve their soft skills include:

  • Apps like Calm or Headspace to manage stress
  • Apps like Grammarly to improve written communication
  • Books like a thesaurus or a dictionary to increase vocabulary
  • Courses to improve critical thinking
  • Planners and organizers to enhance time management
  • Role-playing among workers to develop empathy

You can encourage your team members to share other tools that may be helpful for their colleagues. Creating a shared library of tips and tricks for improving various aspects of interpersonal skills will empower your workers to begin their self-development journey. By tapping into the group’s collective knowledge, each team member can find and use proven resources that work for them.

5. Encourage workers to practice

In addition to work-based tools, employees can find opportunities in their daily lives to practice and advance their abilities outside of the workplace. For example, effective communication is necessary for speaking to grocery clerks, bank tellers, friends, and family members. Likewise, active listening is helpful outside of the office when a child explains how their school day went or when a spouse vents about a bad experience at work. Because these traits are personal in nature, workers have a chance to sharpen them any time they interact with others. This availability makes practicing a particular ability the most readily available tool an employee has for improving their soft skills.

​6. Praise your team’s development

Regardless of the tools provided, improving employee soft skills requires a culture that values these sorts of abilities. Reinforcement plays an important role. By acknowledging moments when workers demonstrate effective soft skills, leaders set the tone for how valuable these abilities are in the workplace. Leaders must also model these traits for their workers to provide real-world examples of these essential traits and participate in learning opportunities. Reassuring team members that adding to their capabilities is beneficial and encouraging workers to grow gives leaders a chance to show employees that every role has room for improvement.

Ways to measure employee soft skills

It can be challenging to measure these qualities since workers can exhibit different abilities in a variety of ways. For example, tracking how effectively an employee communicates requires understanding what effective communication means. If a worker has a talent for effective listening, then noticing conversations in which their expert listening comes into play will allow you to track and document their ability. If the same worker has difficulty with written communication, then creating a file to store emails showing improvement opportunities will give you concrete examples for assessment.

Some simple methods of measuring soft skills include:

  • Documenting moments when workers show leadership on specific tasks
  • Saving examples of skillful written and verbal communication
  • Taking note of situations where employees demonstrate empathy for colleagues or customers
  • Engaging workers in one-on-one conversations to experience their listening style
  • Being attentive to personal interactions among the team
  • Keeping track of colleague interactions outside the team

By paying attention to how workers act and react in their work environment, leaders can get a sense of what soft skills their team excels at and which need reinforcement. Over time, a profile of employee soft skills emerges. Then, leaders can use the trends they find to create a program that helps their teams reinforce their skills and add new abilities to the mix.

Help your team identify their skills

For more comprehensive measurements, you can use assessment tools that help gauge a worker’s abilities in a range of areas. For example, when assessing new hires, asking questions involving problem-solving provides an opportunity for candidates to demonstrate their thought processes. Websites like BizLibrary.com, GoSkills.com, and CareerOneStop.com offer assessments to help employers determine their workers’ abilities. These assessments allow workers who take the tests to clearly identify their own strengths while helping them zero in on what they need to work on. Insightful results from these assessments can bolster a worker’s dedication to self-improvement while helping leadership understand how to assist.

Watch for signs of success

Many times, a leader will not truly know an employee’s soft skills until they see the worker in action. Even if their assessment indicates strength in particular areas, their interactions and behavior may say something different. Having a baseline that combines assessment scores and real-world experience will help ensure future assessments are more accurate. An added benefit of assessing a worker in real time is the opportunity for immediate guidance. Rather than waiting for an annual review, leaders can reinforce strong qualities and offer encouragement for weaker abilities while the scenario is fresh. When done respectfully, this sort of direct assessment can open a conversation about which soft skills are most valuable to the team and how workers can improve.

Importance of employee soft skills

Employee soft skills are an important quality in workers who can adapt to diverse situations. Being able to defuse conflict, solve problems in new and creative ways, and communicate effectively are all hallmarks of a flexible employee. These workers rise to the occasion when tasks come their way and have little trouble staying organized during times of change. Employees with interpersonal abilities will also likely help leadership by guiding other workers and helping the team stay afloat. These workers tend to be high achievers, which is an asset for the team as well as the organization. Teams with multiple experts can achieve incredible results, making a more productive crew in general and preparing workers to handle more challenging moments effectively and efficiently.

In many workplace scenarios, employees focus more on their work than they do on their teammates. This focus can create the illusion that interpersonal abilities are less important or even unnecessary in these roles. However, interacting effectively with other workers is a key quality for every worker to develop, even if the knack does not come naturally. Companies thrive when teams work well together, which makes strengthening traits like communication and collaboration a significant aspect of the work experience.

​Hard skills depend on soft skills

In many instances, the ability of a worker to acquire new hard skills depends on their soft skills. For example, if an employee receives a brief rundown on a new task with instructions to do some fact-finding, then improving their organization will help them create a plan to seek out the right resources. In the same scenario, strong communication will help the employee explain their needs to associates who may be able to help. Finally, active listening will allow the employee to gather and present the missing information to their leader or team. This combination of abilities creates an effective worker who can function independently or interdependently based on the situation. Even better, the employee can determine what the situation calls for and adapt accordingly.

A workforce with developed soft skills strengthens an organization from top to bottom. When called upon, these workers can learn new functions more efficiently and transition into new roles. This adaptability may be due to a worker’s ability to process new information easily or minimize the stress of added responsibilities. In other scenarios, having empathy may help workers take on new tasks more readily. In addition, time management and organization can help employees create efficient workflows, and creativity can lead to innovative ideas and novel problem-solving. Whichever soft skills a worker exhibits, companies can add value by helping workers develop a suite of complementary qualities.

Conclusion

Companies sometimes overlook soft skills in favor of more concrete talents, but these abilities are important indicators of successful workplace interactions for all employees. While hard skills will help a worker with job-related tasks, soft skills extend beyond job roles to impact other individuals within an organization. With guidance and encouragement, employees can develop interpersonal traits that will make them an asset to their team and the organization as a whole.

You can help workers improve their own qualities with active listening activities during team meetings. Many team building skills are also soft skills, which indicates how important these abilities are for creating effective work teams.

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FAQ: Employee soft skills

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about employee soft skills.

What are employee soft skills?

Employee soft skills are social and behavioral qualities that guide an employee’s experience in the workplace. Valuable soft skills for employees include problem-solving, active listening, time management, and leadership.

Why are employee soft skills important?

These abilities are important for maintaining an enriching professional environment. Traits such as effective communication and remaining calm and focused under pressure can help workers become leaders.

How can employees improve their soft skills?

Employees can improve their soft skills through practice, by reading books about developing specific talents, and with in-person or online seminars. Having a work culture that values these abilities and leaders who model them can make it easier for employees to boost their competency. In addition, because soft skills largely involve personal interactions, employees can practice in real-world situations outside of the office.

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Author:

People & Culture Director at teambuilding.com.
Grace is the Director of People & Culture at TeamBuilding. She studied Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University, Information Science at East China Normal University and earned an MBA at Washington State University.

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