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Liggy Webb

The Learning Architect

Founding Director

Read more about Liggy Webb

Trends 2012: Modern life skills


The demands and challenges that HR professionals face at the moment are becoming increasingly complex. 

Stress-related illness and mental health problems have a huge impact on staff morale, not to mention their effect on productivity and, therefore, business success.
The cost of absenteeism is huge and the issues surrounding presenteeism are both time-consuming and complicated.
Although technology was meant to support the creation of a more efficient and effective workforce, in reality, the pressure felt by many people has only increased to the extent that they find themselves fire-fighting and trying to balance their lives, sometimes quite precariously to the detriment of their health and wellbeing.
But the simple fact of the matter is that businesses cannot and will not survive or thrive without healthy, positive and productive employees. Individuals’ coping mechanisms are being challenged and stretched to the limit, however, and ‘resilience’ seems to be a word on everyone’s lips.
The key challenge for HR professionals in this context is to find ways of cultivating a sustainable working environment that helps people cope better physically, environmentally and emotionally.
There are a number of emotional triggers that are affecting personnel more and more at the moment, however. Although change is becoming more commonplace and inevitable in the work environment, it is also generating fear and resistance at the same time.
Job losses have left those who remain suffering from ‘survivor guilt’. But bigger and bigger workloads are also seeing people feeling overwhelmed and stressed. Poor communication has likewise left them confused and feeling undervalued, resulting in low self-esteem.
In fact, UK charity, Mind, revealed recently that one in four people will be affected by some form of mental health problem in their lifetime, while the World Health Organisation predicted that, by 2020, depression will be the second most widespread form of illness in the world.
Adaptive and positive behaviour
But it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom and those organisations that proactively provide the support that individuals require will be richly rewarded with a thriving, striving work force.
What this means is that there is a greater need than ever for HR departments to look after the well-being of their people. And equipping them with a robust set of modern life skills will help them to look after themselves more effectively in challenging and demanding times. 
So what are modern life skills? According to the WHO’s definition: ‘Life skills are the abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life.’
Another useful starting point, however, is to go to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which divides life skills into subsets of broader categories, which include the following:
  • Learning to know (cognitive abilities), which involves decision-making, problem-solving and critical thinking skills
  • Learning to be (personal abilities), which involves skills for increasing internal control, managing feelings and stress
  • Learning to live together (interpersonal abilities), which involves interpersonal communication skills, negotiation and refusal skills, empathy, co-operation, teamwork and advocacy skills.
Although there is no definitive list of such skills, it is generally psychosocial and interpersonal abilities that are considered to be important here. But the emphasis attributed to these different skills will vary according to the individual concerned and their set of circumstances.
Moreover, although different capabilities are often presented as being distinct from one another, in practice, people tend to use multiple skills at the same time. In fact, it is the interplay between the different skills that often produces the most powerful and positive behavioural outcomes.
As to what trends we can expect to see over the year ahead, a major one will be a growing emphasis on ensuring that the workforce is healthy and resilient.
1. Personal empowerment
Personal empowerment will become increasingly important in this context and can be encouraged by supporting staff to take more personal responsibility for the choices and decisions that they make on a day to day basis in the workplace.
Encouraging individuals to evaluate themselves and identify both their strengths and their areas for development will be key to success. One suggestion here is to implement personal action plans, but other support tools are also available.
The important thing is to ensure that individual employees feel valued and trusted in order to ensure that motivation and confidence levels are high and that morale is good which, in turn, translates into better performance.
2. Workplace wellness
But the concept of workplace wellness is also likely to continue growing in significance, with many organisations that have already gone down this route now being able to demonstrate good returns on investment.
Examples of possible workplace initiatives that encourage individuals to take responsibility for their own physical health include the Global Corporate Challenge, while educating people on the importance of optimum nutrition and offering more healthy eating options in the canteen can also reap dividends.
3. Emotional resilience
A third important life skill over the year ahead, however, is also likely to be emotional resilience. Some workers will require help to deal with problems both at work and home. But workplace strategies and interventions that help them learn to become more positive, optimistic and innovative will also reap rewards.
Learning to bounce back from challenges and move forward positively will be crucial, which includes being able to embrace and cope effectively with change.
4. Effective communication channels
Finally, HR departments will need to start examining the validity of their communication channels – particularly with the advent of email and mobile technology, which can, in some extreme cases, end up negating the human touch.
The idea is that effective, empathic communication can help to reduce the fear factor when change occurs, helping employees to embrace and cope with it more positively. But such communication usually works best when it takes place face-to-face rather than hiding behind technology.
But in the end, while each organisation’s approach to supporting individuals in developing better cognitive, personal and interpersonal life skills will vary, it is HR professionals who will be pivotal in helping to create a healthy, happy and resilient workforce.
And for people to be happy in their work, three key things are required: They must be fit for it. They must not do too much of it, and they must have a sense of feeling success in it.
Liggy Webb is founding director of The Learning Architect, a consortium of learning and development experts who specialise in behavioural effectiveness.
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Liggy Webb

Founding Director

Read more from Liggy Webb

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