Learn Better Work Happier

“Soft” Skills By Any Other Name

My daughter is a force. She is determined, insightful, intelligent, and funny. But more often than not, when new people meet her, they opt to say some variation of “Don’t you look pretty.” I’ve experienced more than one proud moment in which my daughter looked up at me, imploring, as if to say “I don’t know what to say to that.” Because she is much more interested in talking about her new monster truck, riding her bike fast-fast, or learning to identify and sound-out words. Because my daughter, in all her complexity, is not singularly defined as pretty – that’s just a word people say because, well, it’s just a word they’ve always said. People might mean it as a compliment, but that one word becomes a one-sided, undescriptive, and superficial descriptor of who she really is.

Similarly, learning practitioners struggle with their own pretty when it comes to what the industry refers to as soft skills. Search the phrase “why are they called soft skills” and you’ll find any number of articles, blog posts, and tirades questioning the rationale of this term. A remnant of a bygone era, these skills were called soft in comparison to the hard and tactile skills of factory workers, machinists, etc. But these words have gained more complex attributions in the interim years, with the terms soft and hard aligning more readily to descriptors of feminine and masculine constructs. Put simply, it has become a gendered term. And it’s incumbent upon us to give it a more appropriate name. Why? Because words matter. And more importantly, what we call things matters. By calling these critical skills soft we are, at best, identifying them as female-only skill-sets, and, at worst, minimizing them as “nice to haves” or “second tier” skill-sets.

We know these skills aren’t inherently soft, but we struggle to assign the appropriate nomenclature and we also don’t know how to shift the conversation to focus on their impact and importance. So, what are the skills at the heart of this soft skills conundrum? These are the people skills, the human skills, the professional skills. These are the influence without authority skills. The design thinking and problem solving skills. The building inclusive team skills. Basically, soft skills are what all employees need to be successful in the modern workplace.

This challenge hearkens up a timeless passage from Romeo & Juliet, brilliantly posed by the word master himself, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” In this monologue, a naive Juliet ponders her own challenge of loving the son of her arch enemy. She muses that if she were to call him something else, perhaps her trials would disappear. To Juliet, the only thing standing in the way of love is Romeo’s name. But, of course, Shakespeare is joking. Because we know that calling something by a different name doesn’t make it different. But what if that thing was misnamed from the start?

Indeed, “What’s in a name?” Well, if you ask Shakespeare, a lot, actually. As long as we persist in misnaming the most critical skills of the modern workplace, we miss the point entirely, and we risk misleading an entire generation of employees in believing that these skills, these soft skills, are unimportant. Like the word “pretty,” when we use the word “soft” we’re misrepresenting what these skills really are.

So how about this. Let’s call a rose a rose. Instead of soft, how about… Interpersonal. Cross-Functional. Professional. Pick a word, but let it be truly reflective of the skill-sets to which you refer.

At Grovo, we’re dedicated to building a best-in-class library of lessons that helps everyone thrive in their jobs. Take a look at our Microlearning® Library Datasheet to learn more, and to see how you can help your team build their interpersonal, cross-functional, professional, and just plain essential skills.

Development

Mind the Workplace: How Workplace Stress Impacts Engagement and Productivity

Many employees will spend a quarter of their lives in the workplace. On any given day, they will spend more time interacting with their colleagues than loved ones. In a society that places much value on productivity, profit, and bottom lines, physical, and mental health in the workplace often becomes collateral damage, especially in high-stress work environments.

Workplace stress is inevitable and, at times, can foster motivation. This is often the case when high demands in the workplaces are accompanied with high-valued resources (support, reward, and recognition, etc.)

However, the opposite is true in workplaces with little to no resources. In these particular workplaces, employees experience higher stress levels that impact their engagement and productivity, as well as personal relationships and emotional wellbeing.

In 2017, Mental Health America (MHA) published findings from their 2017 Workplace Health screening survey in their “Mind the Workplace” report. Over 17,000 employees across 19 industries in United States completed the Workplace Health Survey, which collected data on how work environments were contributing to workplace stress and impacting employee engagement.

Why Work Environments Matter

The absence of accountability, support, and reward and recognition in the workplace results in higher-levels of stress among its employees. MHA’s study found that:

  • Due to a depletion of motivation, only 17% of employees felt that people were held accountable for not doing their jobs;
  • 64% did not believe they could often turn to supervisors for support; and
  • Less than 50% felt that they were paid what they deserved

With little to no credit or support in the workplace, many employees find themselves having to take on an already burdensome workload. An alarming 70% of employees reported that they faced unrealistic workload expectations with 63% percent noting that an unhelpful work climate was contributing to interpersonal hostility and social isolation. Despite facing high demands in the workplace, most employees are not receiving the necessary resources and are at a greater risk of experiencing emotional and physical exhaustion due to workplace stress.

Performance and Productivity

Emotionally and/or physically exhausted employees display lower levels of engagement and contribute to higher rates of absenteeism and presenteeism in the workplace. More than a third of employees stated that they “Always” missed 3-5 days of work because of stress, and 77% reported that they “Always or Often” spend between 31-40 hours a week feeling distracted at work.

With all these statistics around workplace stress, it’s no surprise that it plays directly into the relationships employees have outside the office. 80% of employees reported that workplace stress had negatively affected their personal relationships, while 63% admitted to coping with workplace stress by engaging in unhealthy behaviors.

The data shows that the effects of workplace stress transcend the workplace. Employees’ workplace experiences and personal lives are more interconnected than ever. Emotional and physical exhaustion due to workplace stress is impacting productivity and performance and leading to the development, or exacerbation of mental and/or physical health conditions.

Workplace Perks and Benefits

Employers that want to identify ways to manage workplace stress should consider factors that improve job satisfaction. Employees who are satisfied with their job are motivated, feel an attachment to their workplace, and can recognize the value of their work. MHA’s Workplace Health Survey’s data analysis on the perks and benefits offered to employees showed that the following three had the strongest impact on job satisfaction:

  • Open door and relaxed work environment
  • Opportunities for professional growth
  • Flexible Work Arrangements/Workday Flexibility

Workplace perks and benefits are factors that influence workplace conditions, affect employee well-being, and improve productivity and performance. Workplaces that create opportunities for employees to learn new skills, take on more responsibilities and experience autonomy at work, foster self-efficacy and productivity.

Workplace Stress Management and Employee Engagement

Further findings from the survey highlight the relationship between employee wellness and productivity. Mitigating the effects of workplace stress improves employee performance, and reduces the significant financial losses stemming from high rates of absenteeism and employee turnover.

Every organization—large or small—is currently facing workplace instability and high turnover costs, with 70% of employees stating that they were thinking or actively looking for a new job. Knowing this information, employers can improve the health and productivity of their employees.

In prioritizing employees’ emotional and physical health, employers are eliminating the biggest threat to their organizations’ success: excessive workplace stress. With a strong commitment to stress management in the workplace, employers can tackle the source of the problem rather than its symptoms.

Conclusion

Workplace stress impacts everyone from top-down organizations to relationships outside of the office. Read the full Mental Health America survey to get in-depth coverage on how workplace stress and how organizations can work together to reduce its negative impact on employees.

Michele Hellebuyck is a Program Manager, Policy and Programs at Mental Health America (MHA). She manages the implementation of MHA programs as well as the development of publications for MHA’s programs and policy activities.

Microlearning New Content

Announcing New Lessons on the General Data Protection Regulation

Ever have that experience where you look at a product online–maybe a new TV or a pair of shoes–and then that same item magically appears in ads on your Facebook page or some random blog you’re looking at? It’s a pretty common phenomenon: companies collect information about what you’ve been looking at, then target ads to you based on that information.

It’s just one of the many ways in which many companies can use your data online. Now, whether that’s awesome or creepy is up for debate, but one thing that’s for sure is that if you’re a citizen of the European Union, this experience could change soon: the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) goes into effect May 25th, and from that point on, companies will no longer be able to use your data for any purpose without your explicit consent.

The EU passed the GDPR to protect its citizens’ data at the population level, which means any company interacting with European citizens needs to comply with new rules for data collection and usage, or pay hefty fines. For many companies, in and out of Europe, this will require changes in what data they collect, how they collect it, how they store it, how they use it, who they share it with, and how they dispose of it–it’s a lot!

However, if your company needs to be compliant with the GDPR, once you get over the hump of changing your data processes, it will help you better serve your customers and increase their trust in you, because you’ll be taking better precautions with their personal information.

Producer Jen SanMiguel breaks it down in simple and useful terms in Grovo’s newest Mircolearning® content on preparing for the GDPR. Through this content you will learn:

  • Who needs to be GDPR compliant: Learn what GDPR is, who is subject to it, who is protected, and how you can make sure you’re in compliance if you need to be
  • What does GDPR compliance means for your job: Tailored to different data protection areas, such as customer data, patient data, employee data, software development, IT, web design, and budgeting, learn what the GDPR means for you.

To get started, take one of our lessons, “Does My Non-EU Company Need to Be GDPR Compliant?” to find out whether GDPR is relevant to you. (And don’t worry–you’ll still be able to get ads for things you want, you’ll just have to actively consent!)