Soft Skills

December 15th, 2016 Posted by Susan's Musings 20 comments

My husband and I spend a fair amount of time filming our TV show, Ancient Jewish Wisdom on the TCT network. We used to work on our set in Marion, IL, but recently we started taping in the Akron, OH studio.

Every time we have been there, we interact with a large number of station employees. Some make up the camera crew, some direct the show, while others are involved with administration or post-production work. The employees span the spectrum of age, race and gender. To be honest, we are not an easy couple to host. Anytime we spend the day there, TCT asks someone to drive half an hour to pick up and bring kosher food to us.

Here is what I have noticed. Every person we meet is unfailingly competent, cheerful and willing to go the extra mile to do their own job as well as any other task that is needed. We are very often there from early in the morning until late afternoon. Many days when we leave the building, staff that has been there with us from the morning is setting up for an evening event. Yet, the hard-working professionalism and downright niceness never flag.

We don’t take this for granted. Being responsible and cheerful as you work is not universal. For example, among the questions I never imagined myself asking my daughter is this one: “Where did you learn to call in if you were going to miss work?” Yet, after hearing two stories from friends about well-educated, aspiring employees who stayed home because of family issues and never thought to tell their employers that they wouldn’t be in, I asked my well-educated, aspiring daughter exactly that question.

I know where she learned how to answer the phone in a professional manner. I know where she learned to write a thank-you note for a gift. I know where she learned not to rush past exiting passengers when elevator doors open. I taught her all those things. But I do not ever remember mentioning that you do not miss work without notifying your boss. It never crossed my mind that it needed teaching.

Yet, it seems that many of her generation thinks it fine not to show up and not to respond to a boss’s call or email, and assume that you still have a job as long as you provide a reasonable explanation for your absence upon your return to work. Perhaps they are right. In both the cases of which I am aware, the employers explained future expectations, but tolerated the egregious behavior. I can only assume this was because they had no hope of greater ‘soft skills’ from a new hire.

In the words of Cindy Herold who runs a restaurant near Washington, “I can teach somebody how to slice and dice onions. I can teach somebody how to cook a soup. But it’s hard to teach someone normal manners, or what you consider work ethic.” A LinkedIn study of 291 hiring managers found that more than half of them felt that the absence of soft skills was hindering their company’s productivity.

I am not in favor of increasing the minimum wage. I think that, ‘free college for everyone,’ is a recipe for disaster. I deplore politically correct laws that make you walk on eggshells while interviewing prospects. Not one of these ideas will add to most young person’s chances of getting and keeping a job. Restoring manners and responsibility to an elevated place in society will. If I was a parent or teacher living near a TCT studio, I would encourage the young people in my care to race over to those studios and offer to work for free. The soft skills they will observe around them, along with the practical technical skills they will be taught, may make the difference in how much they earn for decades to come.

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20 comments

Kent Bonham says:

Wow, Susan. If you didn’t hit the nail on the head. I realize we are a less formal society than we have been in recent years, and I’m not a very refined individual myself (even though I should “know better” — a parental phrase used while I was growing up), but in my work, by golly, you had BETTER call in. We recently hired a bunch of newbies (all 24 years old, incidentally) who I am very impressed with. They want to be there, they are bright, sharp, work-ready, conscientious, everything I have dreamed of in an employee. I always train the new ones. This is refreshing. Also, they seem to come from religious homes and went to religious schools. Hmmm. Coincidence?

Susan Lapin says:

I’m glad that you are finding such good employees. Treasure them.

Nancy Cole says:

Susan, I always believed in the apprenticeship teachings. I would start it at a young age, have a person in business who needs someone to be an errand person, and allow the errand person to ‘rub elbows’ with the business execs, but have the business execs keep a sharp eye out for the one to bring into the business, teach, coach and then let the person start at a very minimum wage and get raises as the errand person learns and grows. So many times of late I have had to deal with a person on the phone who ‘thinks’ they know more than me, and really they are just a body filling up space. Now this has gone on for 20 years, employers just hire and let it all FALL into place, but hurts their business. I am 80, I go daily and say, ‘Father, what are YOU going to do today and where do I fit in?’ What is my JOB, who do I touch, speak to, cuddle, hug, what ever… I am in dire need around 110 Greenway, I pinch every penny, I go with out, I live alone with now 2 little dogs and a stray kitten growin up to be a neat little lady. I thank GOD for my upbringing, the encouragement given me by my parents and my Father’s mother, she was the sweetest and kindest person on earth. I am a widow now for 17 years after 44 years of marriage, 5 living children who are now 50 to 60, they help with money at times and I am thankful, my son gave me a state truck he bought at auction, neat yellow with a light, and I stand out. Have had it since end of Sept., but I still figure the future would be so much nicer when the apprenticeship is restored in many businesses. To me that is the soft skills needed, just sometime a person needs a little nudge and off they go. Or the nudge will awaken the skills that are in that person as God put them there. Aren’t we the keepers and teachers of all children of GOD, especially those coming up around us? My youngest is 50, business woman, nurse, has the horse farm with all her doings, AND I still say what I see and you know, she surprises me with doing it!!!! Thank You Jesus, she is something that I can pour myself into in nudges, the soft skill. Nuff for now, thank you for the article, Love, Nancy:)

Susan Lapin says:

You’re clearly proud of the children you raised! Thanks for writing.

Joyce Redos says:

Your advice applies to a wide variety of venues, not just good work ethic. I have recently been surprised by the number of businesses that have begun to give out notices to their clients on “no show, no call” policies. Apparently, this is a problem across the board in our society. People don’t seem to have any concept that their failure to show up for work, for a doctor’s appointment, or even to have their hair done is not merely an inconvenience to employers and others, but actually has an adverse economic impact on these people’s businesses. It is sad to think that we have now become so self-absorbed that we cannot conceive of the impact of our actions on others. Sad.

Susan Lapin says:

What a good point, Joyce. We had the reverse situation that you just reminded me about – we stayed home for someone to come for an appt. our insurance required and they never showed. Later they called and told us their child’s doctor appointment ran long, completely unaware that we had rearranged our day to be available.

Marie says:

Well, I learned mine from the military, my parent didn’t teach me anything and perhaps, from my other friends parents. I always knew I should tell someone if I was going to be late or not coming in especially, if they expected/depended on me to be there. However, in the military I learned that it would have to be someone in authority who had the power to excuse me. Sometimes the person was a friend and would give me more leeway and cover for me if I missed a formation but I still had to communicate what was going on and the reason I would be late. In the military, at least during the time I served you did not, not show up formation. I don’t care how sick you were. If you weren’t carried in an ambulance to the hospital you had to show up for the first formation of the day and then get a sick call slip. So, there was no such thing as not coming in. I think in this new generation employers shouldn’t take anything for granted and give new employee’s an orientation of what is expected on the job. You just can’t take anything for granted anymore. Talking about a work ethic isn’t universal anymore so, the employer much convey to the employee what “he/she” expects of him/her in different situation and give several examples. Don’t leave anything to chance. Explain yourself thoroughly.

Susan Lapin says:

The military is a great introduction to real life in many ways and we do see the loss that only a small segment of our country is involved in it. You’re point about employers not taking anything for granted and laying out policy is a great one.

Lynn says:

My daughter is active military and she has run into the very same thing. She has had to spend her day tracking down no-shows! Our military is not what it use to be, unfortunately.

Susan Lapin says:

So sad to hear.

Marilyn says:

We are experiencing this in the work places in our community.
Our local community advertises itself as “work ready” and the high schools in our area are vocational training ones.
It is disheartening to think of young adults (or older teens) not realizing the basic ideas of employer/employee relationships. It may be that businesses have to add this basic training as part of their on the job training.

Susan Lapin says:

Certainly part of vocational training should be workplace behavior. The school is remiss if they aren’t teaching that.

Lynn says:

Susan, after reading and responding above I read an article on The Blaze about a young man who works for Chick-Fil-A in Indianapolis. Wow! If you haven’t seen it, you will be inspired.

Susan Lapin says:

I’ll look for it.

Jean says:

The concept behind calling in when you are not going to be at work really boils down to learning to honor commitments, which is something the snowflake generation AND their parents were short-changed in learning. A few years ago, I went to a job interview. It wasn’t a job I really wanted, but because I had committed to the interview I showed up. This was to be a group interview, and 5 people were scheduled. Only two of us showed up. I was the one who received the job offer. And even though this was not a job I considered to be a “dream job”, I performed the tasks at 100% until such time as I found other employment, at which time I offered a 2 week notice of my departure. I was as replaceable as dirt, but still considered this to be common courtesy.

Susan Lapin says:

Common courtesy has become very uncommon.

George Emmert RN says:

Being in management for the Long Term Care industry, I see this all too often. Not calling in is at the same level of sleeping in and arriving late. “At least I made it.” I have been thinking long and hard about the root of this problem. Many of these individuals truly seem just not to get it. When I interview, I ask an important question about their high school education, “What do you wish they would have taught you that they didn’t?” I eagerly await their response (Its a favorite question) and invariably its always the shame. They answer with emphasis and a truly longing answer, “I wish they would have taught me how to manage a check book.” “I wish they would have taught me how to cook.” “I wish they would have taught me how insurance works, taxes, and conflict resolution.” “How society really works.” It is sad that many are at such a disadvantage from the education they received. At least they were properly instructed on how to become president. The solution is painful, tolerating the behavior for a while and reinforcing proper expectation through repetition until they improve. Most do not.

Susan Lapin says:

What a great interview question and what a condemnation of the schools – and the breakdown of family where kids are not getting these skills there either. Personally, we did great on family transmission of cooking but I still have trouble balancing my checkbook (though I make sure the bank thinks I have more than I think I have.)

Brenda Barry says:

Dear Susan Lapin: I have just read “soft skills” and I am in complete agreement with your position. Yet, I have one insight to offer. I have discovered that in America those of us responsible for raising the children of our nation over the past 40 years, have by default created a generation of consumers. Consumerism carries an unspoken entitlement with an absence of responsibility. Leading by example is one of the key elements that will create a consumer, if the mind and heart of the student observer has not been prepared with the understanding and drive to learn everything that can be learned from observing as well as the passion to bless others with newly acquired skills with acts of service. I am 67 years old, the mother of three off spring 44, 31 & 30, and I have recently discovered that all of my “monkey see, monkey do” training was mis-interpreted by two of my children and their peers. It was not for a lack of instruction, but was due to a lack of acceptance of the concepts. As I interviewed my youngest daughter why the lessons were so easily cast aside, she willingly stated the influence of peers was a significant pressure to ignore parental example and influence. Securing the heart of the child must precede learning from observing good behaviors and courtesy.

Susan Lapin says:

Thanks for sharing, Brenda.

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