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what’s today’s most in-demand ‘soft’ skill?

Research reveals creativity, problem-solving and analytical thinking are some of the most in-demand innate skills, but none compare to this important core skill

Research reveals creativity, problem-solving and analytical thinking are some of the most in-demand innate skills, but none compare to this important core skill

Despite a slowdown in hiring, pockets of high demand persist in the labor market. Hard-to-fill roles supporting AI, automation, cybersecurity and other specialties still perplex and slow employers’ growth ambitions. But it’s not just technical skills that are hard to come by. One of the most important human traits that separates man from machine remains difficult to acquire, and it’s essential to an organization’s well-being.

Randstad Enterprise’s Global In-demand Skills research finds that among all the inherent traits we track, empathy is associated with the highest job vacancy rates at 8%. This means companies seeking candidates with this quality have a harder time finding them than those with traits such as analytical thinking (3%), problem solving (2%) and creativity (5%). Even talent with leadership skills are easier to come by (6%).

Among all core skills tracked, jobs requiring empathy were found to have the highest vacancy rate, slightly higher above the next highest category of continuous learning.
Among all core skills tracked, jobs requiring empathy were found to have the highest vacancy rate, slightly higher above the next highest category of continuous learning.

the scarcity of empathy 

Why is empathy so difficult to find, and how important is this quality when it comes to talent? According to Harvard Business Review, empathy not only positively affects how people feel at work, but also business outcomes. By fostering this sense of mutual respect, employers can raise productivity, innovation and job satisfaction. For managers and executive leaders, an empathetic approach leads to greater trust with all team members.

While empathy is not an exceptionally rare trait, candidates often underestimate this quality as an important aspect of their innate strengths. People more readily emphasize their learned skills or personal skills they believe are more useful in the workplace, such as collaboration, adaptability or leadership. As a result, candidates often fail to highlight in their CVs their capacity for empathizing with the people around them, which is correlated in our data analysis as a rare skill to come by.

Research conducted by the Association for Talent Development found a significant correlation between leaders who express caring, support, and empathy and workforce performance. Companies that scored in the highest quartile versus the lowest quartile on organizational trust and leadership empathy report 75% higher engagement, 50% better retention and 40% less job burnout. These kinds of achievements are what every business and talent leader aspires to because they have real-world impact on business performance and customer relationships.

Conversely, people who lack empathetic traits can cause a host of problems for their organizations, potentially creating toxic work environments and miscommunication distrust among peers, according to Psychology Today. This will have a detrimental effect on engagement and morale.

Most importantly, organizations risk losing critical talent. According to the 2024 Randstad Workmonitor survey of workers around the world, 42% say they would quit their job if the employer refused requests for better working conditions. An even higher percentage (54%) said they would leave if they didn’t feel they belonged there.

turning understanding into action

Because of the impact that empathy has on retention and performance, some HR leaders increasingly recognize the importance of this trait in the people they recruit. Unlike technical skills that can be easily learned, however, empathy and other inherent qualities take time to instill and nurture. Especially for leaders, empathy requires considerable investments in time and outreach to better understand the challenges and motivations for their employees.

Leaders must use this skill to develop policies and take actions that address the concerns and needs of their employees and colleagues. Empathetic traits are effective only when they result in measures that alleviate stress, enhance trust and facilitate cooperation among employees. And when leaders evangelize the need for compassion throughout the enterprise, its viral effect on the broader workforce is amplified and normalized.

what does empathy in the workplace look like?

As Harvard Business Review explains, empathy is the ability to be compassionate towards people whose experience and challenges are unfamiliar to your own. For instance, allies of the LGBTQI+ community may not have experienced workplace discrimination due to their gender or sexual orientation, but they can understand the pain it causes. Similarly, managers who don’t assume caretaker roles might provide more job flexibility to employees with kids and other responsibilities. Regardless of the situation, authentic empathy reassures people that their employer is interested in their needs.

So how can organizations help their leaders and workers become more empathetic in the workplace? Coaching and training are some of the most immediate ways to instill empathy, but small, informal actions taken daily can also make a big impact.

Here are three ways to get results:

  1. daily check-ins
    Many organizations conduct daily check-ins among teams to gauge the workload and stress levels of their people, and it’s an effective mechanism. Leaders should be coached on how to solicit genuine responses and be prepared to address a variety of needs, ranging from workload support to validating different opinions.

  2. inclusive decision-making
    Omitting people from decision-making processes that affect their workload and responsibilities shows a lack of empathy. Leaders should balance the input of all their employees with their personal judgment to strike a healthy balance. Be transparent and open about decisions and policies to build communication and trust.

  3. encourage peer support
    An empathethic organization is not only compassionate at the leadership level, but throughout the business. Develop policies and practices that help employees recognize and support each other, either through business resource groups or other affiliations.

Empathy is a trait not all employees will possess, but employers can still nurture a culture of compassion and respect that will have a tremendous impact on workforce performance. Such an undertaking requires leadership committed to such an initiative and adoption throughout the organization. With greater engagement, retention and productivity the result, the effort is clearly worth it.

Explore supply and demand data for today’s top in-demand skills.