Top 10 Soft Skills for 2019 in the Workplace

Melissa Suzuno

HR and L&D Insights Writer at Udemy for Business

January 24, 2019

How do you determine which business skills your employees should be focusing on this year? As routine jobs become more automated and we move toward a digital-human workforce, people will need to specialize in key soft skills that robots lack. We took a look at the fastest-growing soft skills trending in the workplace in 2019 on Udemy for Business.

The great news is that humans excel in areas like conflict management, emotional intelligence, and storytelling—which top the list of soft skills people are learning in the workplace in 2019. In fact, research shows organizations that help foster these natural human traits like collaboration and storytelling are higher performing than those that don’t, according to our recent Humanizing Learning Report. With our rapidly evolving landscape, change management also crept up on the list of the fastest-growing soft skills in 2019. As organizations drive their digital transformation, automate their processes, and adopt new technologies, change management will play a critical role in facilitating a successful workforce transition.

Here are the top 10 business and soft skills to focus on in 2019.

1. Conflict management

When gathering people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives in a high-pressure environment, conflict naturally arises. Research by CPP Global finds that US employees spend 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflict. But despite its prevalence in the workplace, many leaders feel uneasy dealing with conflict. 37% of leaders report they’re uncomfortable about giving direct feedback/criticism to their direct reports and 69% say there’s something about their role as a leader that makes them uncomfortable communicating with their employees. This discomfort arises from a variety of situations, but some of the most common ones include demonstrating vulnerability, recognizing employee achievements, and delivering the “company line” in a genuine way.

In Dealing with Conflict at Work: Real World Strategies & Tools, instructor Mike Clayton offers tools to deal with conflict that arises in the workplace. Learners will identify the signs and stages of conflict escalation, how to de-escalate conflict, and how to recover broken workplace relationships. Dr. Mike Clayton draws on his experience as a senior manager at an international consulting firm, a senior representative of his firm, and a program leader. This course is especially targeted at managers and supervisors, but the material is applicable to anyone in the workforce.

2. Time management

There’s no question that the pace of the modern workplace can be overwhelming. According to Udemy’s 2018 Employee Experience Report, half of the survey respondents (and 53% of managers) said they could improve their time management skills. And while the number of productivity tools like email, chat, and online collaboration spaces has proliferated in recent years, 37% of respondents said that these tools can be great “sometimes, but not always.”

Help your employees improve their time management through Udemy for Business courses like Productivity and Time Management for the Overwhelmed. Instructor Josh Paulsen has been helping students and clients reach their full potential in their careers and businesses for over 15 years. In this course, Josh takes a three-pronged approach to time management: First, he looks at the factors that lead people to feel overwhelmed and procrastinate. Second, he helps learners build a foundation with fundamental habits that increase productivity. Finally, he offers proven tricks and hacks that will make a dramatic improvement in productivity.

3. Stress management

Stress has become an increasingly common part of the modern work experience. The 2017 Udemy Workplace Stress Study found that 52% of all respondents were more stressed than they had been in the previous year, and two-thirds of millennials were stressed at work all or most of the time. Researchers from the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland studied stress related to social media at work. They found employees were overloaded by the sheer volume and variety of social media interruptions as well as the invasion of work into their personal life by always-on digital chat tools.

Unfortunately, chronic stress impairs our brain functions in the moment and results in lasting damage long after the event. Even when we’re no longer stressed, our body and brain can still be negatively impacted by stress. This is bad news for companies, both in terms of how employees feel when experiencing acute stress and during its aftereffects. Sustained high stress at work is linked to employee burnout, a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion, which Harvard Business Review estimates costs companies $125 billion to $190 billion a year.

In Stress Management: 40+ easy ways to deal with stress, instructor Gregory Caremans shares scientific explanations for how the brain reacts to stress and practical strategies for reducing stress now and guarding against stress in the future. Gregory shares some of his top tips in 9 Ways to Reduce Workplace Stress in the Digital Age.

4. Communication skills

According to Google’s extensive research as part of Project Oxygen, being a good communicator is one of the eight skills that defines a good manager. High-scoring managers at Google are “clear, concise, and honest” in their verbal and written communications, but also effective listeners. But many companies and leaders struggle with communication, which can have serious repercussions. An HR Dive study found that employee burnout is often a result of unclear communication.

There are several Udemy courses that can help your employees improve their communication skills. In 7 Scientifically Proven Steps to Increase Your Influence, instructor Vanessa Van Edwards offers tactical and actionable tips to foster meaningful connection and make interactions more memorable. Vanessa shares strategies for kicking off conversations, telling attention-grabbing stories, and asking questions to engage others.

Cross-Cultural Communication: How To Flex Your Style introduces the Geert Hofstede Model of six dimensions, a framework that helps define the ways different societies organize themselves: power distance, individual vs. collective, assertiveness vs. modesty, risk tolerance, short-term and long-term, and indulgence vs. well-being. These six dimensions offer insights into the ways different cultures communicate within different dynamics such as family, society, and the workplace. For example, some cultures prioritize future rewards over tradition and understanding this can help provide context for people’s behavior and decisions.

Nonverbal communication skills are also important. In business, understanding nonverbal cues are crucial to sending the right message, as well as interpreting those of others. Most aspects of nonverbal communication are often forgotten, such as body language, facial expressions, and eye contact. Learn how to master nonverbal communication with this popular online course by Vanessa Van Edwards on Udemy, The Secrets of Body Language.

5. Company culture

Company culture is what sets you apart from your competitors, and it is the key factor that guides candidates’ decisions about where to accept an offer, according to research from Korn Ferry. Who is responsible for company culture and how can you optimize yours? These are questions that Patty McCord, former Chief Talent Officer at Netflix and author of Powerful explores in Build a Culture of Freedom & Responsibility. During her 14 years at Netflix, Patty helped create the Netflix Culture Deck. Since it was first posted on the web, the Culture Deck has been viewed more than 18 million times.

This course covers everything from annual performance reviews and performance improvement plans and assessing the relevance and impact of your organization’s policies and procedures to motivating others and practicing radical honesty. Executives, leaders, managers, and HR professionals from early-stage startups to large corporations will get value from this course.

6. Customer service

The customer service experience has the ability to make or break the way your company is perceived. And when it’s done badly, it has a substantially bigger impact: American consumers who have a positive service experience will share it on average with 11 people, but when they have a negative experience, they’ll tell an average of 15 people. This means that you have to work extra hard to prevent negative customer experiences, or your business will suffer. US companies lose more than $62 billion annually due to poor customer service.

You can help your customer-facing employees prepare for the difficulties that may arise in their work with courses like Customer Service: Soft Skills Fundamentals. In this course, instructor Samara Wenten helps learners develop the soft skills they’ll need to thrive when working with clients, including planning and preparation, self-directed learning, clear communication, and more. Samara shares some of these essential skills in her blog 5 Essential Soft Skills for Every Customer-Facing Team.

7. Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EQ) refers to a person’s ability to be aware of, control, and express their emotions, and understand and influence the emotions of others. EQ can have a serious impact on work performance: 23% of employees who don’t meet expectations during their first 18 months on the job fail because of low EQ. Other studies link high EQ to leadership abilities, health, happiness, and employability.

Want to help your employees boost their EQ? In 21 Day Crash Course in Emotional Intelligence, instructor Dr. Patricia Thompson helps learners increase self-awareness and empathy while improving communication and conflict-resolution skills. Dr. Thompson is an award-winning psychologist, management consultant, coach, and author who is passionate about helping her clients to achieve happiness and fulfillment. For over 15 years, she has worked with all sorts of clients ranging from students to Fortune 500 CEOS, to cultivate their innate talents and achieve success. See Patricia’s blog: 4 Interpersonal Skills that Can Enhance Your Company’s Bottom Line.

8. Personal productivity

Do you ever wonder if your office environment is preventing you from being as productive as possible? The modern office is full of distractions—and we’ve got the research to prove it! The Udemy Workplace Distraction Report found that the top causes of distraction include: chatty coworkers, office noises, feeling overwhelmed by changes at work, and social media.

But the office environment isn’t the only source of distraction: More than a third of millennials and Gen Z say they spend two hours or more checking their smartphones during the workday. And 62% of all survey respondents said they spend an hour a day checking their phones.

Modern Productivity: Superhuman Focus in a Distracted World gives your employees the skills they need to tune out distractions and improve their personal productivity. Instructor Brad Merrill walks through a variety of strategies that learners can implement to reclaim focus, maximize productivity, and achieve goals. Learners will develop a productive mindset and stay motivated, discover the truth about multitasking, identify their peak hours of productivity, and much more.

9. Storytelling

Storytelling is a powerful skill that can captivate an audience, hold their attention, and motivate them to action. Listening to a story activates different parts of the brain, leading us to see and feel the things the storyteller is describing. Employees on certain teams like sales and marketing likely already know the power of a good story, but anyone can benefit from building their storytelling skills. It can help employees improve their presentation skills, professional networking abilities, and much more.

In Storytelling for Business, instructor Kevin Allison draws upon his writing and acting experience from The State on MTV, Stella, Reno 911!, Flight of the Conchords, the beloved performance troupe Blue Man Group, and the popular comedic website JibJab. The course covers how to include the 6 senses in your story scenes to trigger emotional responses, how to master the 5 beats of classic story structure, and how to drive a narrative toward one unforgettable selling point.

10. Change management

In the coming years, we’re expecting some major changes in the workplace: automation and AI will replace some jobs while dramatically changing others. The very nature of employment is also changing, with an increase in remote work and the prevalence of the gig economy.

Change can be overwhelming, but there are ways to help employees more effectively navigate and accept change. In The Ultimate Disruption Playbook, instructor Charlene Li helps learners develop the skills that can transform a legacy business into a frontrunner. This course covers how to create a coherent disruption strategy to align your organization, how to align that strategy with a vision of how you will serve your next-generation customer, and how to transform your culture into an engine that will power your disruption strategy. The Ultimate Disruption Playbook is filled with case studies and activities to make the lessons practical and actionable.

To see the top skills from last year, check out 10 Hot Soft Skills in 2018.

If you’re interested in online courses for your team or organization, find out more about our Udemy for Business subscription.

About Udemy for Business:

Udemy for Business is a learning platform that helps companies stay competitive in today’s rapidly changing workplace by offering fresh, relevant on-demand learning content, curated from the Udemy marketplace. Our mission is to help employees do whatever comes next—whether that’s the next project to do, skill to learn, or role to master. We’d love to partner with you on your employee development needs. Get in touch with us at business@udemy.com

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Based on data from 30+ million learners on Udemy, here are the fastest-growing top 10 tech & soft skills in 2019

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