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3 Strategies for Building 2024’s Most In-Demand Skills

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Tue Apr 30 2024

3 Strategies for Building 2024’s Most In-Demand Skills
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We’ve entered a new multiverse of work, a parallel universe that has different rules and realities than the one we occupied before, and we’re trying to make sense of it.

The abrupt changes and continuous uncertainty of recent times have demanded real-time responses without the luxury of established strategies. It’s no wonder so many workers feel lost, negatively affecting our workplace cultures.

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In hundreds of interviews, I hear about feelings of detachment, loss of effectiveness, and ennui. Contrary to hyperbolic opinions, people aren’t less ambitious or feeling lazy, they’re uninspired. Among those resigning, a common sentiment is the desire for work that offers greater meaning and challenges.

Unique skills are now essential for guiding organizations through novel times.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Survey, cognitive skills and social/emotional intelligence are the most critical core competencies for future readiness. The survey analyzed 803 companies, collectively employing more than 11.3 million workers across 27 industries and 45 economies from across the world. “More than 70 percent of companies surveyed consider creative thinking and analytical thinking to be the skills most expected to rise in importance between 2023 and 2027.”

If organizations want to be future ready, learning and development in these core areas will be key. To make that happen, we’ll need to address the barriers preventing people from accessing those skills.

Clearing A Path for Takeoff

A large-scale data analysis of 300,000 cases found that from 2017 to 2023, mental health–related leaves of absence increased a staggering 300 percent. Anxiety tops the list as the number 1 presenting mental illness–it wasn’t even in the top five in 2017. And women are at the highest risk–representing nearly 70 percent of the mental health leaves.

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According to Harvard research, executive function is part of the mental process “that enables us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully.” Similar to “an air traffic control system at a busy airport that safely manages the arrivals and departures of many aircraft on multiple runways, the brain needs this skill set to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses.” Under stress, our brains can suffer disastrous outcomes, much like a malfunctioning air traffic control system at a busy airport.

Research has shed light on the relationship between stress and creativity. Stress tends to narrow focus and attention, making it difficult for individuals to think broadly and consider alternative perspectives. Individuals experiencing high levels of stress are more likely to rely on familiar routines and solutions rather than exploring novel ideas, thus stifling creativity and critical thinking (Richardson, Akinola, Baer).

As chronic stress soars across our workforce, analytical and creative thinking skills will be difficult to build. To get future ready, leaders need to create healthier and happier cultures so analytical and creative thinking can flourish.

Purpose

Leaders who express a compelling organizational purpose help us to connect our terminal goal, such as leading a happy life, with our instrumental goals, like finding time to laugh. Instrumental goals are the steps on the path and terminal goals are the destination.

When organizations learn what matters to people and attach them to everyday tasks, it reduces boredom and monotony, which can cause chronic stress and burnout. If someone sees how their daily tasks fit into a bigger picture, it can significantly increase well-being at work. When we feel safe to be our authentic selves at work, we are more likely to offer thoughtful opinions and creative ideas.

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Hope

Today, about 50 percent of adults between the ages of 18 and 30 say they have felt hopeless three or more times in the last two weeks. It can be challenging to think critically when you’re weighed down with existential worries about the world. When organizations focus on pathways to goals, and give people autonomy and a plan to reach their goals, it builds cognitive hope.

We can foster hope by being inclusive with strategic planning, setting attainable goals, and shortening timelines, so we feel wins more frequently. We can build hope through deliberate succession planning, starting at onboarding, and by providing role leadership models.

Productive Relationships

We are currently in a loneliness epidemic. In my conversation with Jon Clifton from Gallup, he describes it as a “friendship recession,” after years of turbulence and new modes of working. Twenty percent of the global population say they have no one to turn to in a time of need. According to the latest Global Happiness Report, in countries like the US, Canada, and Australia, people under 30 rank among the world’s least happy, with loneliness as a significant factor.

Gallup’s research finds that friends at work matter significantly for employee well-being, engagement, and overall organizational success. Employees who report having a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their job, more likely to innovate and collaborate effectively, and less likely to experience burnout or feel disconnected from their work. These factors make it easier for us to think creatively and analytically.

Building meaningful friendships begins with respecting people’s time. Eliminate lunch meetings and minimize meeting frequency to reduce meeting fatigue. It’s about scheduling time for serendipity. Do not “force” fun but show that prioritizing joy at work matters. Promoting joy means making space for friendships, which, in turn, increases job retention rates by 50 percent.

Prioritizing purpose, cultivating hope, and nurturing friendships can serve as powerful antidotes to stress, enabling us to tap into our core skills with greater ease. As stress levels diminish, our cognitive capabilities, especially creativity and analytical thinking, flourish. Embracing these practices enhances our individual effectiveness and creates a culture of collaboration, innovation, and success within our organizations and communities. In the end, it creates a workplace culture everyone wants and where everyone wins.

For more insights, join me at the ATD 2024 International Conference & EXPO for the session: Out With the Old: Six New Rules to Reinventing Work.

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