Many experts say younger workers, with their 140-character communication style, lack the soft skills necessary to get on (and get on with others) in today’s workplace. Here are 10 ways to help young workers develop better people skills.

The latest generation of employees to enter the workforce can sometimes be a puzzle to more seasoned heads. Indeed the motives, attitudes, behaviours and expectations of these young employees can be vastly different from more experienced workers. These recent recruits are a creation of a truly digital world, their ‘140- character’ communication style and desire to smash through the glass ceiling in record time can often put them at odds with corporate culture.

Today, younger workers have their own way of interacting with their colleagues, with many experts saying they lack the essential ‘soft’ skills—the people skills that enable us to deal with, influence and communicate with other people. These people skills—also referred to as emotional and social competencies—can sometimes be more valuable in the workplace than ‘hard’ skills, the technical abilities needed to do a job.


In fact, global research has shown that social and emotional competencies are considered by many as vital to business success, with 88 percent of surveyed HR directors believing a talent pool with strong soft skills is critical to ensuring their organisation stays ahead of the competition. However, worryingly, these essential people skills seem to be lacking in new graduates. According to Hay Group’s Today’s graduates: Worth their weight in gold? report, 80 percent of HR directors claim they’re struggling to find young workers with the necessary emotional and social capabilities to support future business growth. So what can HR do to develop these essential skills in younger workers?

It’s important to understand that the right behaviours for the workplace can be learned. It is perfectly possible to ‘train’ young graduates in the social and emotional skills your organisation requires. That said, organisations tend to neglect efforts to develop these abilities in their staff, expecting it to happen ‘on the job’.


People skills aren’t learned by osmosis, however, so Hay Group has developed 10 ways to help HR develop these abilities in their graduate recruits early on in their careers.

Create a feedback culture: Encourage staff to give constructive feedback—good or bad—on behaviours as well as technical abilities. Fostering such a climate means making feedback mechanisms, such as online 360-degree tools, readily available to all employees.

Encourage mentoring: Encourage informal mentoring at all levels, not just by senior managers. Create structures and environments for people to help and support each other in real time—for example, on internal social media forums.

Boost organisational awareness: Help younger recruits to understand the organisation and learn how to navigate the workplace. Provide them with opportunities to discover how other parts of the organisation works, who they need to know to progress in their careers, and how they access people who can help them learn and grow professionally.

Provide opportunities to learn: Encourage people to practise new behaviours in safe environments, on the job or away from the workplace. This might entail tasking somebody with a listening assignment, which requires them to have a conversation with a friend on an issue they disagree with, and try to understand the opposing position.

Bolster self-awareness: Build self-awareness in young workers from the offset, by providing feedback on how they performed during the interview process. Also, provide them with tools to audit their own behaviours, moods and triggers, to help them understand how they work best.

Allow time to reflect: Provide young workers with the chance to get together with their colleagues and discuss key successes and challenges of projects they work on. Encourage them to reflect on their own contribution—both positive and negative—in order to build awareness of their behaviour and impact.

Leverage the power of technology: Make sure to capitalise on their obsession with smartphones, tablets and social media platforms by integrating technology in to their learning and development programs.

Make it enjoyable: Use gameplay to make learning more compelling, encouraging graduates to stay focused on developing social and emotional skills. Leverage gamification techniques—points, competition, levels, recognition and reward — to tap into people’s achievement motive.

Hit the sweet spot: Focus development where it’s most effective. Learning in the workplace tends to follow the 70-20-10 rule: people acquire around 70 percent of their working knowledge on the job, 20 percent from colleagues and 10 percent from training courses and background reading.

Formalise it: Soft skills are essential to career progression so start to build them into your performance management system, and make them part of employees’ performance reviews and development plans.


Today’s graduates are tomorrow’s leaders, so it is important to provide them with compelling and relevant tools that encourage them to develop strong social and emotional competencies. This will ensure they have the people skills organisations need to influence and drive future business success.

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*This article first appeared in the May edition of Employment Today New Zealand

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About Contributor

Simon looks after Hay Group's services business in New Zealand and works with HR leaders from all industries and sectors to achieve real-world results through their people.

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