Companies are focusing on building out their employees' people skills during the pandemic

Companies are focusing on building out their employees' people skills during the pandemic
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  • A new McKinsey report finds which skills workplaces are focusing on developing in their employees.
  • About half of respondents said leadership, critical thinking, or project management skills.
  • About 39% said interpersonal and empathy skills, roughly double the share that said this in 2019.

A new McKinsey report highlights the changes in the kinds of skills companies are focusing on while the pandemic continues to loom.

And based on the results, more workplaces seem to be prioritizing building employees' interpersonal and empathy skills than they were in 2019.

The global survey from December asked 700 people from different job levels - from associates and consultants all the way to executives - and from different industries about what skills, such as programming and managing others, workplaces have "prioritized to address through reskilling."

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The results show that compared to 2019, there seems to be an increasing emphasis on building social and emotional skills as well as some advanced cognitive skills through reskilling. McKinsey wrote that three of the five largest increases from the 25 skills asked about are considered social and emotional skills.

Bill Schaninger, a senior partner at McKinsey and one of the report's co-authors, told Insider analytical skills would have probably been at the top of the survey results if it was asked a few years ago, but this survey shows in 2020 skills like managing others, project management, and critical thinking are all things companies are aiming to address - in addition to an increase in various social and emotional skills.


"I think what they're getting their head around is the sheer scale and pace of change has meant that it's likely overwhelming for many workers," Schaninger said. "So in that case, the role of the frontline leader and let's say one level up, is demonstrably about worker care, helping them understand why what you're asking them to do matters, trying to make the formal system really line up and make it easier to comply, making sure it's okay for them to raise their hand and say I need help, and giving them the skills and support they need."

Empathy at work has been important during the pandemic as workers balance work and childcare or other responsibilities, dealing with work amid an unprecedented situation, along with their concerns about the pandemic.

Vicki Salemi, a career expert at job site Monster, also told Insider having empathy is important and that the pandemic has especially had a "significant role" in this soft skill for both employees and employers.

"It's an important soft skill overall to demonstrate because employers are looking for employees who have the ability to see things from different perspectives and understanding and comprehension. And it's the emotional quotient," Salemi said.

Overall, skill building has become more important during the last year, according to the report. "69 percent of organizations doing more skill building now than they did before the COVID-19 crisis," while only 7% reported less skill building.


Although only 39% of respondents said their companies are building up interpersonal skills and empathy through reskilling, this was about double the 21% share that said this in 2019.

The results further vary at the industry level. "Public and social sectors, as well as in healthcare and pharmaceuticals, are nearly twice as likely as those in industrial organizations to say that they have focused on interpersonal skills and empathy," the report said.

Although "leadership and managing others" and "critical thinking and decision making" skills did not see as large of an increase from the survey results a year earlier, around half of respondents in the December 2020 survey said that their companies were focused on reskilling these. Schaninger noted that problem solving skills is an evergreen skill that is important to have, but even the pandemic has affected these kinds of skills.

"The acceleration of adoption of new things has been dramatically faster," Schaninger said about the pandemic's impact on skills. That means the pace of problem solving in the moment needs to be dramatically faster. "