Empathy Is ‘The Number One Soft Skill’ CHROs Need

Christina Gialleli, director of people ops at Epignosis, explains why putting deadlines before employee well-being creates a toxic work environment.
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The pandemic and the Great Resignation have accentuated the need for up-and-coming leaders to hone their soft skills, especially listening and respecting what workers are really trying to tell them and, above all, being empathetic to their needs.

So says Christina Gialleli, director of people ops at Epignosis, a San Francisco-based tech company that provides learning software.

Do you believe the future of work will consist of a balance of hard skills and soft skills for employees?

Hard and soft skills are already equally important—we can’t imagine an employee being successful in any role without possessing the necessary people skills. In fact, a survey we conducted after the pandemic outbreak showed that 50 percent of employers providing upskilling and reskilling training programs already target both hard and soft skills. The same survey revealed that the majority of employees who seek training on their own look for online courses that would help them develop soft and hard skills related to their current role.

When we examine the kind of skills required for a position, the seniority level plays an important role. For instance, for a mid-level position, a balance of hard skills and soft skills will be required, but the higher an employee progresses in their career, the bigger the focus on soft skills will be.

What kind of soft skills do you think companies will look for in their employees and consider a requirement?

Communication and collaboration skills will prevail. Teamwork and smooth communication characterize high-performance teams and this is why companies expect from employees to be good listeners, be able to delegate work effectively, and respect the different ways people work.

Leadership skills come next, which include knowing how to empower and inspire people, delegation, making data-driven decisions, emotional intelligence, as well as knowing how to nurture people.

What are some soft skills you believe managers should have to lead a success team?

Empathy is the number one soft skill managers should possess. Leaders putting deadlines or personal interests and their reputation before their employees’ well-being create a toxic work environment.

For people managers, assertiveness is also crucial. Whether it’s choosing the right person to hire, the best way to undertake a project, or how to resolve a conflict or situation, the outcomes of managers’ decisions affect the success of their teams and making decisions with confidence leads to confident teams.

Finally, delegation and empowerment are two important skills for leaders. They should know how to positively allocate responsibilities to members of their team, while also endorsing their skills and contributions.

Stay interviews are conducted to help managers understand why employees stay and what might cause them to leave. They’re coming up more often as employees focus on retention efforts during the current high turnover rate. Do you think these are necessary?

Seeing the tidal wave of resignations across industries, stay interviews are becoming more and more necessary. This is because every employee is different with different needs and expectations and having one-to-one conversations is the only way to really tell who is happy and who is not.

Of course the best way to assess employees’ intentions is to incorporate this into the regular assessment of the employee. For example, having an honest discussion on what makes an employee love their job and what are areas of concern can be a part of the employee’s performance review. 

How should employers and employees prepare for these conversations? Which employees should have stay interviews?

To ensure a successful outcome, these interviews should definitely be conversational. In my opinion, a manager should know the needs and pain points of all their employees. But special focus should be given to new hires, because a third of new hires quit within their first year, as well as people who have stayed at the company for at least two years but have not had a promotion or a job role change. In fact, the Great Resignation survey we conducted recently on tech employees showed that limited career progression is the number one reason for quitting.

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