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Skills that matter now are empathy and human connection

Sarah Fern, Director, People EMEA - Saba Software

It’s very clear that the structure of the traditional workforce and workplace has changed forever. For a while now, it’s been the case that instead of filing into an office day after day, we can jump into a video conference with globally dispersed colleagues. We work in the cloud and share information across a huge range of platforms and applications. Our skills are changing, and the way we develop them is changing. But more than this, our expectations of what ‘work’ should look like is completely transforming. In this world where experience is everything, employees want more than a paycheque – they want a role that inspires them, challenges them as a person, aligns to their values, and offers a chance to make an impact on the world.

As “work” changes its very definition, HR leaders need to focus on how to equip the workforce with the tools needed to grow, develop and set goals. The days of top-down directives are long gone; today, we encourage employees to be the CEO of their own career.

Because of these shifts, so called ‘soft skills’ have never been more important. Empathy and human connection are on the rise. Today’s younger workforce (and those coming up behind them) want to be part of something bigger. They need to know why they’re doing what they’re doing, and how it adds value. This younger workforces often values autonomy, trust, social responsibility, well-being and culture above everything else.

Why empathy is in style
The younger workforce believes that work isn’t a place you go to, it’s something you do. Independent thinking should be encouraged, and goals should span every aspect of life, not just work. The line between work and personal life continues to blur, and we’re in pursuit of a career which offers the same engaging experiences as our hobbies and passions. This experience starts from an individuals’ first encounter with an employer brand and carries over to the employee experience and wider workplace culture.

For more than 100 years, work has been a contract between employee and employer. But it’s always been a rough fit because employees don’t experience work as a contract. They experience work as a relationship. And when research is examined for what drives employee engagement, the list usually includes trust, feeling valued, the knowledge that someone cares, and being appreciated. Employers who foster and drive these attributes in their workforce are going to be well placed to deal with the future of work and all that it brings.

Using human connection in a healthy way
Proactively unleashing emotions in the workplace can be a daunting concept for employers. Encouraging people to open up and be honest about their feelings could unlock a number of tricky scenarios. But, with a clear goal of what they’re trying to achieve and the tools in place to encourage healthy connections, HR leaders can tap into a really valuable skill set.

It’s the role of HR leaders to foster the following elements of healthy human connection within their organisation:

Acceptance – All people want to be accepted and appreciated for who they are. Work hard not to cram people into small boxes of what they “should” be. Be elastic with role parameters.

Communication – We’re all guilty of not communicating as much as we should all of the time. With large teams it can feel impossible. But it’s easy to gossip or worry when leaders stay tight-lipped. Keep employees in the know as much as you can.

Appreciation – Is there anyone who doesn’t want to be validated and acknowledged for their talents? If so, I haven’t met them! Remember to notice your employees. It goes a long way.

Commitment – Good relationships are built when both parties are invested in each other. Encourage managers to show commitment by meeting with employees regularly and help boost their people’s career growth and development by asking questions, being curious about what drives them, and ensuring they’ve got what they need.

Technological innovations will continue to impact
Around 1.5 million jobs in England are at high risk of some of their duties and tasks being automated in the future, Office for National Statistics (ONS) analysis shows. Most of the skills we focus on now in our roles will hold less value, as we see the necessity for people skills, empathy and human connection. This is no longer just important in careers such as nursing, social care and therapy. Everyone wants to be looked after, feel safe and be listened to – regardless of their career path.

Deloitte research on digital disruption shows us that as work changes, the way we learn is changing. We must help our workers embrace lifelong learning and reinvention. Possible avenues for worker-driven learning include video, mobile solutions, curated content and micro-learning.

The output of work is more important than the steps taken to get there
Employers need to adapt to an inevitable future – one where culture and flexibility is more important than pay and benefits; where micro-management makes way for bottom up self-driven development; where connecting no longer means face-to-face; and where the purpose of work takes on a completely new meaning.

What is the “purpose of work?” Engaged employees can put their finger on it: it can be a one-time project that inspires the employee. Or if can be the well-executed mission of the organisation that leads employees to do greater work. The purpose of work can change through the various stages of an employee’s career. Our workplaces must be havens for helping our colleagues find meaningfulness whilst at the same time discovering and utilising the unique talents of each person.

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