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  • Writer's pictureMelanie Reinersman

Minds at Work: The Role of Social-Emotional Skills in the World of Work

Can all skills be taught? Who is the better teacher of soft skills: parents, schools, employers, friends? Which jobs require the most skills, including non-technical and soft skills? Answers to these questions are as numerous as any Google search (i.e., hundreds of results). While we may be able to easily name skills that employers want, such as critical thinking or resourcefulness, we may not readily define them as social-emotional skills or give them high priority at all stages of life. When we don't, are our minds really at work? ~ Melanie Reinersman,

Photo by LinkedIn Solutions on Unsplash

FOCUS ON: Social-Emotional Skills and Labor Market Success

While there is little agreement concerning which social-emotional skills are needed to work and when they could be acquired, the literature does support the belief that they are needed for labor market success. Because employers value these skills (namely problem-solving, resilience, teamwork, initiative, control, confidence, ethics and achievement motivation), it is important that these skills be taught at the optimal stage for learning. Read more and view a table of the eight major skill areas relevant for the labor market, each with sub-skills, related personality correlates, and links to neuro-biological systems, published by the World Bank Group.

FOR PRACTITIONERS: Measuring Social-Emotional Skills

The debate about skills versus traits, defining the taxonomy, and the developmental period for optimal for learning are explored in this 2021 conceptual analysis article. The Behavioral, Emotional, and Social Skills Inventory (BESSI) is based on a proposed five-domain model of skills and is found to be a reliable and valid assessment. A longitudinal study of high school students used the BESSI to predict outcomes including occupational interests. Read more about all aspects of social-emotional skills including planning for post-secondary education and success across the lifespan.

JOB SEARCHING: Soft Skills for Specific Jobs

Many of the demands of different occupations are detailed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, except for the mental or cognitive requirements. Of course, education and training are important, but it is worth noting the discrepancy between education and soft skill level, in that some jobs require low levels of formal education but high levels of soft skills (e.g., people skills for bartenders). Using BLS data that supports disability programs, the exploration of work requirements may aid job seekers in identifying and selecting preferred ranges of work skills, such as:

  • telework (e.g., financial operations vs food service)

  • public interaction and people skills (protective service vs construction)

  • pause control (architecture vs transportation – moving materials)

  • problem solving (legal vs personal care)

Read more from the BLS.

CAREER SPOTLIGHT: Early Childhood Educators Support Social-Emotional Skill Development

Tools of the Mind (Bodrova & Leong, 2007) is a resource for teachers who aim to help children acquire early academic skills while practicing social, emotional and cognitive self-regulation. This early childhood curriculum is based on the principles of cultural-historical psychology. The section on the “Importance of Social Context” emphasizes the influence on attitudes, beliefs, and thoughts. Educators may find this book and its accompanying resources a practical, applicable, and understandable way to bring developmental, theoretical ideas to life. Read more about this publication.

TOP TEN: Ways Leaders Can Improve Social-Emotional Skills While Working from Home

Remote work conditions brought about unique employee needs, such as the challenge of engagement with the reality of physical and psychological distance. Leaders may want to practice accepting criticism without becoming defensive, explore motivations and even schedule time for structured games about emotions. Read all ten examples of leadership practices that affect social-emotional skills during remote work.


“Mastering ... skills doesn’t magically happen overnight. It requires hard work, but the payoff can be tremendous.” ~ Peggy Klaus
“Your emotions are the slaves to your thoughts, and you are the slave to your emotions.” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert

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