Feeling the pain: Employers respond to the soft skills deficit

The soft skills deficit

Five years ago, while teaching full-time as an English instructor at a community college, I became painfully aware of my students’ lack of soft skills. When I walked into class, I greeted my students. Many times, only a few would respond. The rest stared blankly at their smartphones. When I passed students on campus, I noticed similar behavior. Lots of heads in phones. Lots of headphones on. Lots of blank, sad faces. When students chose to engage in conversation, they often seemed awkward and unsure about what to say and how to interact.

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At first, I assumed they simply lacked strong communication skills. Since I taught English Comp and Oral Communication, I made it my mission to educate and re-mediate. I tried. But I couldn’t help students who didn’t register for my courses. And I also couldn’t force feed unwilling mouths (or brains).

That was 2014. There was something in the air… it was a real turning point in the way I viewed my students. Why?

The role of technology

At first I assumed my own perception had simply changed, or I’d just gained new awareness. But statistics prove it wasn’t my perception after all. Pew Research data from 2014-15 cites that Gen Z respondents claimed to use their smartphones “several times a day,” while VisionCritical research shows that Gen Z respondents in 2015 spent an average of 15.4 hours per week on their smartphones and another 10.6 hours on their laptops. And if you want to really dig into learning about the soft skills gap, pick up a copy of Bruce Tulgan’s fantastic book on this topic (I’m a huge fan).

As employers and educators, we are starting to feel the effects of Gen Z’s addiction to digital devices and internet access. In the end, digital natives grow up and become candidates for employment. And guess who’s left to deal with the great chasm between the ideal candidate profile, which features strong soft skills (which we all need to work well with others), and the reality of today’s average candidate? The employer. YOU.

What are you going to do about it?

I hope you’re feeling the pain as you read this. I’m not trying to be mean. But I know this to be true–most of us simply won’t take action and make changes until we feel pain or desperation. And most of us won’t spend money on training until we notice negative effects in the workplace.

For years, researchers (ahem… like me) have shared statistics, information, and tips about soft skills training, the soft skills gap, and the need for awareness about this upcoming epidemic. Unfortunately, most employers and educators didn’t take action. Developing training programs takes time, costs money, and can feel incredibly frustrating. Why should you have to pay for training? Isn’t it the university’s problem or failure? Maybe. Why should the university have to deal with it? Isn’t it the high school’s fault or failure? Maybe. Why should the high school have to handle it? Shouldn’t the parents do a better job? Probably.

Choices and actions

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When we stop pointing fingers, we’ll ultimately realize we’re left with two choices:

1. Continue ignoring the problem. This will get us into a greater bind, lead to organizational chaos, and cause our businesses to lose more money and become less productive.

2. Accept reality. We’re stuck with the problem, so let’s search for solutions.

Implement mentoring programs. Reevaluate your recruiting and hiring process. Take a hard look at your onboarding process. Train your trainers to teach soft skills, and if you have no full-time trainers, hire me to train your hiring managers to teach soft skills or to directly train entry-level employees or coach selected struggling employees.

There are solutions. And as with most situations in life, we become ready to take action when the fear of moving forward becomes less intimidating than the misery of our current situation.

I am here when you’re ready to move.

Contact me to discuss soft skills training, executive coaching, and other solutions.

 

branding best light

Branding yourself in your best light

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Transparency. Isn’t it lovely? Unless we’re talking about bra straps or Scotch tape, not necessarily. No one wants to see (or smell) your dirty laundry. I promise. While transparency certainly has its place in the world of business and marketing, it doesn’t translate well to personal and professional branding.

Why? We’re flawed. We all possess defective character traits. If we care about our colleagues, and we care about creating a positive impression on others, we spend all day long hiding those little flaws. We work to build better character traits. When we’re hungry, angry, lonely, tired, sad, or overwhelmed, we try to suck it up and carry on. We may let it all hang out the minute we walk in the door after work. We heat up a frozen pizza, throw on the sweats, and lean into the sofa with a beer and our dog. We have ourselves a good cry. But do we show it at work? Absolutely not.

Is this healthy? Are we all imposters? What in the world is wrong with us? Why can’t we just be ourselves in the workplace?

First of all, let me be clear. If you’re struggling to get out of bed every morning due to depression or anxiety, seek professional help from a counselor. If you’re so overwhelmed by stress in the workplace, and this topic is causing you neck pain, you may need to consider yoga (or a new career path altogether).

But most of us aren’t struggling with emotions or concerns which are extremely out of balance. We’re just trying to make it through the day. Some days are tougher than others.

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How do you make it through those tough days without losing your cool and burning bridges with people at work–your professional network? How do you brand yourself in your best light on a regular basis? And is branding yourself in your best light really being honest with yourself and others?

Here are a few thoughts on branding yourself in your best light and the notion of transparency in the workplace.

  1. Don’t be transparent at work. Set appropriate boundaries. If you need to learn how to set appropriate boundaries, hire a professional counselor or therapist. Read the book Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. Don’t expect yourself to understand how to have positive, healthy relationships with coworkers if you’ve never had positive, healthy relationships with anyone else in your life. You cannot snap your fingers and gain this ability.
  2. Remember that you choose the brand you portray. A brand is simply your reputation. A reputation is built by choices you make. Choices include words and actions. Our words and actions are preceded by decisions. We make decisions all day long every single day.

    Did you know that decision-making is one of the most sought-after soft skills by employers? It’s true. If you brand yourself as level-headed, positive, kind, and thoughtful, you simultaneously brand yourself as someone capable of making good decisions on a regular basis.

  3. When you choose to showcase yourself in your best light–to bring your good stuff to work and share your struggles with only your closest friends, family members, and paid professional counselors–you are not being dishonest. You are being wise. You are behaving in a way which builds your self-esteem. You’re building dignity and confidence in the workplace. You’re giving yourself space from whatever problems you’re facing outside of work, allowing yourself to focus on work while you’re working. You are growing professionally.

    Here is how to brand yourself in your best light… Be the best version of yourself. Continually grow. Make choices you’re proud of on a daily basis. Develop your strengths and character assets. When you focus on developing your soft skills, strengths, and assets, guess what happens to your weaknesses and defects? They die of neglect.

    Your brand will begin to evolve as you evolve. Your brand is simply a moon. If you are working toward career fulfillment and toward becoming the best version of yourself, you’re going to be reflecting nothing but light–and branding becomes much easier.

 

If you need help developing a written branding statement, a bio, an elevator pitch, or a solid LinkedIn profile, reach out to me for help.

For more thoughts on branding yourself in your best light, check out this 3-minute video.

 

 

 

 

Dealing with grief in the workplace

Last week, I was called out of class while teaching as an adjunct faculty member. A coworker informed me that my grandmother had been rushed to the hospital. If I wanted to see her, I needed to leave class immediately. I was glad I left after informing my students that I had to tend to a family emergency. My grandmother died less than 24 hours later. That night, after grieving with my family, I received an email notifying me that a good friend had committed suicide. Needless to say, I felt completely overwhelmed by loss, sadness, and grief. The entire weekend, I was certainly unproductive and did zero work.

But that’s what I needed to do. Because I’ve experienced other major losses and catastrophes in the past, I know that to take good care of myself, I need to let myself feel the weight of the loss as it’s happening. If I don’t, it comes back to haunt me later.

Thankfully, my division chair, career coaching clients, and business partners were all very understanding and supportive. I rescheduled a conference call and a call with a client. But I can’t wallow in grief forever. I have a business to run and students to teach. I created this video to share five ways I appropriately cope with grief in the workplace. I hope some of these tips may help you cope with your own personal losses while continuing to work, produce, and grow in your career journey.


If the video doesn’t play properly, click here.

Communicate.

As quickly as possible after you experience a loss or begin handling a personal crisis, tell your supervisor, clients/students, and coworkers about your situation. You can do this in a quick email or text message. When you communicate about the crisis or loss right away, it lets your employer know that you take your job seriously but that you’re going to need help handling your responsibilities temporarily.

Be real, but don’t let it all hang out.

Be honest about your crisis or loss, but don’t share all the sad, dirty details with your employer, clients, or coworkers. Put yourself in their shoes. Would you want to show up at work every day to find one of your coworkers crying her eyes out for eight hours? Of course not.

Seek outside help if you’re overwhelmed with loss and cannot control your emotions. That’s a normal part of the grieving process. We hire experts to help us with many things–writing resumes, changing the oil in our cars, and even cleaning our homes and offices. Why not hire an expert to help you grieve? A therapist can keep you grounded and provide a sounding board while you cope with your loss and help you avoid dumping your emotions on people at work. If you can’t afford counseling, consider attending free grief support groups in your area. And of course, reach out to your mentor when you need to talk.

Take time off.

Don’t beat yourself up for needing time to grieve. Take time off if necessary. Be sure to talk to your human resources department to comply with standards for leaves of absence.

Re-prioritize.

You can’t expect yourself to perform at 100% while you’re grieving. Be realistic and operate in something like survival mode while grieving. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What can I remove from my plate right now?
  • Are there projects or tasks I can put off temporarily (without missing deadlines or damaging relationships at work)?
  • Who can I delegate some of my tasks to for a short period of time?

Extend gratitude.

When you suffer loss, you’ll likely receive text messages, emails, phone calls, and cards from your boss, clients, and colleagues. Don’t forget to say thank you to those who offer condolences or step up to help manage your work tasks while you’re grieving. This will help you maintain strong relationships at work and keep your professional network intact.

Connect with me for career coaching assistance, soft skills training, and presentations on career-related topics.