Developing Soft Skills Can Contribute Hard ROI
Developing Soft Skills Can Contribute Hard ROI

Developing Soft Skills Can Contribute Hard ROI

Employee Learning & Development   — 3 MIN


When we think about the need for employee education programs, a lot of focus lands on “hard skills” - the abilities employees need to complete their specific jobs. While helping employees maintain their edge when it comes to the latest computer programming, accounting, or legal developments, don’t make the mistake of thinking that is all there is to continuing employee education. As the global market becomes more interconnected, “soft skills” - interpersonal skills like leadership ability, adaptability, and emotional intelligence that are sometimes referred to as “human skills” - are increasingly important for companies that want a competitive edge.

Soft skills are broadly applicable to all workplace settings, and more importantly, they are learnable. Some signs that your workplace may need a refresher on soft skills include high employee turnover, a lack of leadership, or a problem keeping clients once they are signed. But even if your organization isn’t suffering from a lack of soft skills, it could still benefit from helping your employees improve their active listening, conflict resolution, and other interpersonal skills.

A black and white close up photo of two business people shaking hands.

Research suggests that 75% of long-term success depends on soft skills while only 25% of success depends on technical knowledge.

The impact of soft skills training

According to a 2016 study, promoting soft skills like effective communication and problem-solving among employees resulted in increased productivity, increased employee retention, and yielded an overall 250% return on investment. Consider implementing training on the following soft skills to see a similar improvement at your organization:


The ability to work well with others is a key skill in the modern workplace. However, all employees have differing levels of comfort when it comes to collaboration. Some people gravitate toward working on a team naturally, while others have a preference for working alone. Despite these natural inclinations, everyone can work on improving their ability to work on a team, which is great both for individuals and the companies they work for.

Work ethic

Believe it or not, while we usually think of “work ethic” as an innate trait, this can be learned with the proper training and reinforcement. This can have a direct positive result on productivity and quality of work. Managers can also be taught to facilitate work ethic among the employees they supervise through different strategies.


Effective communication is really a set of skills such as clarity, non-verbal cues, confidence, concision and more that together make one adept at written and oral communication. Building this in your people has obvious benefits, but perhaps more importantly, NOT developing communication skills can have very negative effects. For example, one report sites 46 percent of attendees leave meetings without a clear understanding of the next action item, with an estimated cost of $37 billion in lost productivity.


Closely related to communication, listening is something we frequently assume everyone knows how to do. Yet many employees have never learned how to listen effectively, which requires higher-level qualities such as empathy and open-mindedness. Offering training on how they can listen better will be huge for your team in terms of both productivity and morale.

Decision making

The ability to make quick decisions under pressure is one that any organization should value. We can’t always anticipate which problems will occur at work, which is why teaching employees the general skills they need to handle anything that might get thrown at them is a good way to tackle a little issue before it gets big. Learning programs that upskill this attribute can be highly effective, in fact 86% of learners report better decision-making after learning with Blue Ocean Brain.

Emotional control

There is a high correlation between a person’s ability to regulate emotion and the ability to stay productive under pressure. Any workforce can get stressful - employees who have a strong sense of emotional control will handle it best. Teaching employees to recognize when they are having an emotional response and refocus before they make emotional decisions will help them be more effective and efficient. It will also have very real results on your bottom line - studies suggest that a company of 500 people spends over 1,400 hours of company time resolving interpersonal conflicts.


Every work place and project has setbacks. What sets successful people apart is the ability to bounce back from defeats with continued focus and determination. That sort of tenacity can be taught in others and continually practiced.

Time management

The ability to manage one’s time effectively is a skill that all employees need, regardless of their title. The less experience an employee has, the less likely they are to have already developed this skill. Smart employers help employees learn time management skills instead of waiting for them to stumble.

Microlearning for soft skills training

So how does microlearning play into the promotion of these soft skills? Unlike hard skills, which may require lengthier training in the classroom environment, microlearning is perfectly designed to address soft skills. Microlearning allows people to consume new information and ideas on a continual basis in bite-sized pieces, which they can then reinforce and practice in their day-to-day setting. The mobile-friendly nature of a good microlearning program allows learners to access material when and where it works best for them.

Bonus: Soft skills for New Leaders

Emphasizing soft skills is particularly important when it comes to helping your organization’s leaders improve and thrive. Your organization’s leaders set the tone for your entire team, which will result in greater productivity (a benefit for your bottom line) and improved office culture (a benefit for your employees). These skills will also help your leaders avoid wearing blinders when it comes to what is going on at your organization. If your leaders don’t really see what is happening at your organization, they can’t address problems or coordinate initiatives effectively. Offering leaders targeted lessons on soft skill development will help them maintain empathy and agility as they help move your organization forward.