Employee selection: hard to spot soft skills

The International Business Times an NYC based online business publication has a report pointing out that the island nation of Singapore has the “unhappiest’ workers In Asia”  while Indians are the “happiest”.  The source for the report was Randstad’s World of Work Report, a survey conducted by the Dutch-based recruiting firm Randstad Group

That the island nation has residents who count among the wealthiest states in the world and yet are the unhappiest (two thirds of Singaporean workers plan to quit their jobs over the next 12 months) perhaps has more to do with the nation’s lack of a safety valve for its citizens; while the alleged happiness of the Indian worker may, as one wag pointed out, may have something to do with the fact that most workers in India do very little work while on the job.

While geographic (and attendant political systems) location is a contributing factor to emloyee happiness the quest to find out what makes for a happier employee is a seemingly never-ending one.  Finding out in advance where a candidate ends up in the happiness continuum provides rich rewards for employers as beyond the obvious productivity issues at stake it serves to drive recruitment and training costs down.     Heretofore this has largely been a process based on the “gut feel” of the HR department and interviewing supervisor. A Gallup blog post by a young data scientist and recent college footballer  suggests that a data driven approach beats intuition anyday.

The blog post notes that “scientists at Gallup over the past 40 years have perfected data-driven methods to determine which candidates possess the talent crucial to success in the workplace. These talents not only include being strategic, productive, and efficient, but also the potentially harder-to-detect traits such as empathy, positivity, and engendering harmony in a work place.” The writer points out that despite the foregoing most decisions in nearly all walks of life continue to be based on intuition and lays the blame for that squarely on the door of “main stream media and pop culture”.  The article cites Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman who “raised awareness of humans’ potential fallibility when making quick, snap judgments and the cognitive biases to which we are all susceptible.”

Gallup notes that analysis of results across studies point to “positive and generalizable predictive validity across various business criterion outcomes, including performance, retention, absenteeism, and other financial metrics. These results held even for “soft” skills like empathy suggesting that employers need not rely on statements like “I can tell she is going to be a great employee”.

For the hospitality business which pivots considerably on the empathy quotient particularly of its front line employees a data driven approach serves not only to boost productivity but to maximize customer retention.  What was left out in the Gallup post as elsewhere is what implications, if any, are there for employers and employees when someone is not hired for a “lack of empathy”.  The potential for lawsuits stemming from real and imagined discrimination may be substantial.

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Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.

One thought on “Employee selection: hard to spot soft skills”

  1. I agree that it is very hard to spot soft skills. Unlike hard skills, EQ comes out after a certain time. Thankfully, there are some assessments that can help to assess soft skills and guide employers in the recruitment and executive search process.

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