What exactly is meant by the term “work-life skills,” and how important are they to your organization? Forbes writer Liz Guthridgeprovides a great starting place for understanding the term and its value by first addressing the idea of “soft skills,” which are now considered “more important than technical skills” by many CEOS, even as artificial intelligence and the digital business environment receives more and more focus.
Guthridge citesan IBM report that showed “behavioral skills” (aterm that’s synonymous with soft skills in this context) making up the top five desired skills in the minds of CEOS. Specifically, these skills were the “willingness to be flexible, agile, and adaptable to change,” “time management skills and ability to prioritize,” “ability to work effectively in team environments, “ability to communicate effectively in business context, and “analytic skills and business acumen.”
The rough definition of behavioral/soft skills from IBM and Guthridge’s analysis is “highly developed life skills and others that humans do to fully participate in everyday life.” Put differently, Guthridge and IBM understand soft/behavioral/life skills as the skills that apply to many of our experiences. These are the skills we use when interacting with others and planning our days, in contexts ranging from family interactions to keeping track of appointments, meeting obligations, and more. She points out that “historically, soft skills are equated with ‘people skills and communication ability.”
Amy Klimek articulates the increasingly-favored term “work-life skills” by expanding on the soft skills concept to include time management and organizational skills. This is a great way to show the transition between the terms, as it reveals that these ‘everyday’ skills are more comprehensive than mere interpersonal ones.
“Take a minute to look at the current state of your room or work area,” Klimek suggests. “Is everything a mess or does everything have its place?” The organization of your office or work area relates directly to the organization of the work you produce, as “those who are unorganized often slip and miss something they were supposed to do.” Especially when a mistake could cost the company considerable time and/or money, organizational skills are vital to maintain best practices in any company. The same goes for time management skills, as Klimek explains that “Being able to lay out and execute a plan is crucial in any line of business.”
Klimek suggests timing out every part of your work day and week as a method to improve your time management skills—including the time needed for sleep, morning preparation, and virtually every other task. While this might sound like a lot of work—maybe even so much that you’ll end up timing out how long it takes you to time things out—it actually gets to the heart of how we should think of work-life skills.
Without even necessarily thinking about it , most of us already try to stay organized, and time things out like our showers or how many hours of sleep we need per night. Transforming life skills like these into work-life skills really only requires purposeful expansion of these practices. Don’t simply remember that you need seven hours of sleep to get ready for work.
Take this thinking a little further by tracking how long it takes you to complete a duty at work when you’ve had your preferred amount of sleep, and then record how long it takes you to complete that same task when you only get five hours of sleep.
Time how long it takes you to find materials and complete a task when your space is well-organized, and if you find yourself disorganized, time your task completion when you have trouble finding what you need. This data will reveal the importance of organization and time management in a useful, often revelatory way.
Indeed.com’s recent piece on life skills provides a simple and useful way to conceptualize the syncretic nature of the relevant abilities: “They allow you to handle almost everything better, from processing your emotions more effectively to interacting with others.”
With many writing of the importance of improving these skills, this sentiment is helpful to remember that improving them is not a matter of totally rethinking your approach to work (and life), but merely enhancing and augmenting the skills you already use.
When you have a problem with, say, your plumbing at home, you’ve probably trained yourself not to turn your frustration on others or yourself, and instead accept that there is a somewhat frustrating issue but it will be resolved. Try to apply the same mentality to the problems that arise in the workplace.
Work-life skills can be best understood as an expansion of the “soft skills” concept, including but certainly not limited to the people skills that made up most of any soft skill discussion. Work-life skills tend to be skills that apply throughout your life, both at work and elsewhere, and a sharpening of these skills for your workplace conduct will show your commitment and value to your organization.
Some other skills that fall under the work-life umbrella may include decision-making skills, resiliency, tech skills, and others—again, clearly abilities that most of us use in our day-to-day lives, and abilities we will get great benefits out of as we improve their use in the workplace. As an employer, as you work towards improving the work-life skills that will make your employees better communicators, facilitators, and decision-makers, experiment with presenting the challenge this way. Rather than implying a major renovation of their working style is needed, articulate the improvements you hope to see as natural progressions of their current work style and skills they already use when off the clock.
With this approach, chances are good you’ll see faster acceptance of the idea and better efforts towards the improvement you need to see. How do you think your organization fares on work-life skills? How do you think you might go about improving those skills—and which ones would you focus on first?