The Importance of Investing in Social and Emotional Learning

Read about the value of social and emotional learning, and best practices for implementing it in your workplace.

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People think that succeeding at work is all about experience and expertise. Who knows the technology the best, who knows their sales techniques back to front, who's been in the game the longest.

But "soft skills" like empathy and good communication are just as important. As automation increases over the next decade, the work that only humans can do will become more valuable. As such, the soft skills training market is expected to nearly double to $47.16 billion by 2027.

Social-emotional learning can help you build these skills in your own teams, adapting them for the future and helping everyone work more effectively.

What is social-emotional learning?

Social-emotional learning (SEL) helps people process their emotions, have empathy for others, build more positive relationships, and use all that to better achieve their goals.

This is achieved with skills like:

• Self-awareness.
• Active listening.
• Empathy and understanding
• Conflict resolution.
• Emotional regulation.
• Good communication.
• Building supportive relationships.

Benefits of investing in social-emotional learning

Social and emotional learning increases employee satisfaction and decreases turnover. (That alone contributes to your bottom line). This is because it increases people's ability to empathise and their emotional intelligence, which in turn creates better communication, leadership skills and a nicer work environment.

1. Improves communication skills

SEL improves communication skills within your team, and helps them collaborate with other teams across the company. By teaching self-awareness it helps staff to think about the way they communicate and how that might be perceived by others.

For example, consider your own communication style and how it shifts depending on the situation. You might be quite to the point with longstanding co-workers because you’ve had time to build up mutual respect. But, this is likely to change with a new intern who doesn’t know you very well, might be nervous and who will be looking for guidance.

2. Increases emotional intelligence

SEL builds emotional intelligence in your team by helping them understand their emotional strengths, weaknesses, and behaviours.

By identifying and managing their feelings, they can take a step back and understand why they act the way they do in their personal and professional lives.

In getting a better understanding of their own behaviours, they can better empathise with other people in high-stress situations.

3. Better conflict resolution skills

As emotional and communication skills improve throughout your company, SEL will lead to fewer misunderstandings and issues between team members. That said, there will always be some situations where conflict arises.

On the one hand, disagreements can be productive, but under pressure these talks can turn into personal conflicts that start to get in the team’s way. This is where SEL can help, as it teaches not just to avoid conflict but also how to resolve it.

With better conflict resolution skills, everyone can do a better job of not taking disagreements personally and calmly addressing these debates when they arise.

4. Increases empathy and understanding of others

One focus of SEL is on recognising and understanding emotions and how people express them.

Through activities like role-play and interactive games, staff can better think about how other people might feel in a tough situation. This leads to more caring decisions like checking in with a customer even when you're busy or double-checking that everything makes sense for a colleague.

5. Better leadership skills

A good leader will have deep expertise in their field. But they also need a lot of soft skills to be able to lead effectively, like communication and relationship-building.

SEL helps leaders develop healthy relationships. Leaders who are great at forming connections will be able to create a sense of trust, collaboration, and "psychological safety" among their team.

This foundation helps the whole team work more effectively day-to-day. Leaders with good relationship skills know how to foster open communication, listen attentively to their team, and create a welcoming and respectful space to encourage useful feedback.

How to implement social-emotional learning in the workplace

You can implement social and emotional learning through exercises like group discussion, role-playing scenarios, online courses, mentoring software, and one-to-one meetings. But more importantly, what are the best practices that'll help you make a success of those?

1. Establish clear goals and objectives

As with any big project, it’s important to start out with clear goals and objectives.

You want to have a mixture of micro and macro goals and objectives. There should be a focus on whether SEL has improved the day-to-day, for example, wanting fewer HR complaints or a better workplace culture. Whilst other goals should be focused on your business as a whole, such as wanting to see an improved customer experience or higher sales.

For this reason, you can also benefit from tools like ERP project management software. This way, you can get an overview of the entire SEL implementation process as it unfolds by tracking its development as a project as well as being able to view customer service and sales data.

SEL training is an investment, so you’ll want to make sure it’s paying off by measuring it against these goals. Once you can see what’s working, you can double down on the goals you’ve selected or use what you’ve learned to help with other objectives.

2. Provide ongoing training and support

You can't implement SEL into your company with a one-off workshop. There needs to be ongoing, habitual support as these habits become second nature to everyone in the company.

As you get better at these exercises, you can incorporate them into the rest of your upskilling and human development efforts. This will make sure that they become more than just training but instead an integral part of your work culture.

3. Encourage employee participation

You can't implement SEL alone. If you communicate the benefits and get buy-in from employees, you can get enthusiastic participants in your SEL program.

Getting people to participate and make decisions will give your team a sense of ownership and investment. When employees are included in decision-making and feel like their input is valued, they're more likely to commit to the long term. That's true whether they're participating in group projects or they're getting to lead the way in their own mentoring and personal development.

4. Measure and track progress

The effects of SEL should be far-reaching. It should improve how your team interacts, from a weekly all-hands meeting to a quick email. When it comes to measuring SEL’s progress and results, you should take a holistic approach and might track anything from employee satisfaction to sales to customer responses.

You’ll get a lot of value from qualitative data, like written feedback from employees. But, if you want real-time quantitative data, you can use a business management system to track metrics such as:

• Employee satisfaction.
• Employee retention.
• Employee absence.
• Employee performance and productivity.
• Customer service ratings.
• Customer satisfaction scores.

This will help you measure how effective your investment in SEL has been. As a bonus, you’ll also get a deeper understanding of what helps your team work more effectively. This participation will also help them feel part of the process, which will help with buy-in.

Investing in social-emotional learning

Soft skills like active listening, good communication, and being considerate with colleagues are key to a great work culture.

And they don't come naturally: they have to be deliberately practised to become part of individual habits and collective values. Social and emotional learning gives businesses a way to build those skills in groups and individuals so they can reinforce them in new hires.

This article was guest written by James Deverick.

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