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There’s nothing ‘soft’ about soft skills

Updated: 23 Aug 2016


Why do we call soft skills ‘soft’? In the world of work, where we need more than technical skills to succeed, employers and business leaders need to focus on the importance of soft skills when they recruit, according to recruiting experts Hays.

Hays CEO Alistair Cox says that the best technical skills and qualifications in the world can be taught, but they will have little impact unless business managers understand what motivates their employees, can communicate with their team effectively and listen.

Soft skills, or what some call emotional intelligence (EQ), are often undervalued by organisations, however ensuring a business has these skills while promoting their value can help it to perform. Alistair says, “Strong soft skills enable a leader to better understand, motivate and direct people, and as a result their teams are often more focused, productive and happier.”

There are four ways business leaders can ensure they are promoting the value of soft skills within their organisation, according to Hays:

Prioritise visibility 
Making sure management is accessible within the workplace promotes better team working. Replacing email communications with face-to-face interactions on occasion can help a business to achieve this and also demonstrates the importance of interpersonal skills. Alistair says, “As a business leader, you should set an example and actively demonstrate that interpersonal skills carry as much currency within your organisation as technical knowledge.”


Encourage an open culture 
It is important that any business has an environment where employees can confidently share ideas and thoughts. Empowering a workforce through the encouragement of senior leaders to discuss projects will breed creativity. Alistair adds, “It’s important to build a culture in which all employees, no matter their experience, seniority or job title, feel confident to put forward ideas. You need to encourage yourself and others to think about what prevents someone speaking up in a meeting or putting forward an idea.”


Listen properly
Technology means that we are almost always contactable. While this has its obvious benefits, it can also be difficult to switch off and concentrate on the conversation at hand. Allowing yourself to discuss an issue with a colleague without distractions is extremely important, so much so that failing to do so can send the wrong message. “Proper listening is hard and requires undivided attention if you are to make any impact. If you don’t have the time right now to do a proper job, be honest and tell your colleague and rearrange a more appropriate time,” Alistair states.


Lead authentically 
High EQ leaders will show self-awareness, resilience and can create connections with those around them. This isn’t something that can be forced; it’s difficult to fake being empathetic or genuine. However, there are still areas were this can be improved. Alistair says, “Small things like recognising an individual team member’s contribution or providing positive feedback on an idea can have a huge impact. Making sure the performance review process is encouraging and capturing soft skills will also demonstrate that the business’ intentions in this area are genuine.”

According to Alistair, the latest technology, sector experts and innovative products are all crucial to a business. But “it’s a team supplemented with rich soft skills that gives a business a competitive edge.” 

Alistair closes by saying, “More senior leaders need to understand that these important skills aren’t just a nice-to-have in an employee, they are crucial to the success of both the individual and the business,” he says. “So please don’t dismiss these important skills as ‘soft’ and somehow optional. Make sure you view them with the same importance as technical skills, both in your new hires and in your existing employees.”

Hays, the world’s leading recruiting experts in qualified, professional and skilled people.


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About Hays

Hays plc (the "Group") is a leading global professional recruiting group. The Group is the expert at recruiting qualified, professional and skilled people worldwide, being the market leader in the UK and Asia Pacific and one of the market leaders in Continental Europe and Latin America. The Group operates across the private and public sectors, dealing in permanent positions, contract roles and temporary assignments. As at 31 December 2015 the Group employed 9,420 staff operating from 248 offices in 33 countries across 20 specialisms. For the year ended 30 June 2015:


– the Group reported net fees of £764.2 million and operating profit (pre-exceptional items) of £164.1 million;

– the Group placed around 63,000 candidates into permanent jobs and around 200,000 people into temporary assignments;

– 23% of Group net fees were generated in Asia Pacific, 41% in Continental Europe & RoW (CERoW) and 36% in the United Kingdom & Ireland;

– the temporary placement business represented 58% of net fees and the permanent placement business represented 42% of net fees;

– Hays operates in the following countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Chile, China, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UAE, the UK and the USA.


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