Closing the Soft Skills Gap for Gen Z and Others in the Non-Acute Healthcare Workforce

December 19, 2023
Nurses going back to school

Where people work has changed since COVID-19—a change not likely to reverse itself for the foreseeable future. Prior to the pandemic, employees generally worked in office buildings. Today, there’s a clear shift toward working from home or in hybrid environments that have a mix of days at the office and days at home.

According to a report from Working From Home Research, 26% of full-time employees have hybrid arrangements and 8% work entirely from home. Working and learning from home has impacted Gen Z workers, who say they now lack the soft skills needed to be successful in the modern workforce.

Soft skills include people skills and personal characteristics that allow employees to effectively communicate and interact with others in a business setting. Employees who attended college virtually and work from home may not have developed the skill set that comes from learning and working directly with others.
According to Gartner, “Gen Z has missed out on developing soft skills, such as negotiating, networking, speaking confidently in front of crowds, and developing the social stamina and attentiveness required to work long hours, in an in-person environment.”
Workers across other demographic groups have also experienced an erosion of skills due to social isolation, which negatively affects their work performance. “The ‘skills gap crisis’ refers to the fact that many organizations are finding that their workers no longer have the proper skills to perform their roles effectively,” according to a blog from the National Society of Leadership and Success.
The gap is a challenge for a growing number of organizations. A survey found that 69% of organizations have a skills gap, which is up from 55% in 2021.


To upskill employees across all demographic groups, organizations must identify the skills they will need over the short and long term. Then, they should assess which skills current staff have and which are lacking. The next step is to focus on skills development and learning for employees. 

Training should be equitable across the facility to benefit all staff members. Skills training and development can include:

  • Attending in-person or online classes or seminars
  • Joining professional trade associations that offer career and skills training
  • Talking to experienced healthcare professionals for advice
  • Having a mentor who can teach and encourage soft skills
  • Participating in online forums or discussion groups

Organizations can talk to their group purchasing organization (GPO) for assistance. Many GPOs have contracts with experts who can provide training for employee development, such as honing the soft skills needed for non-acute healthcare. The training can show a strong return on investment in the form of workplace efficiencies, a more robust bottom line and higher employee productivity.  

Training can be for specific needs, such as improving communication or time management skills in non-acute environments, or more general, such as best practices for interacting with co-workers in an office setting. In today’s workplace, training can be provided in-person or virtually to meet a facility’s needs. Training can also be provided on an ongoing basis, such as bi-monthly, to help ensure skills stay fresh. 

Other organizations and studies point to Gen Z as being highly collaborative and self-reliant while valuing diversity. “A typical Gen Zer is a self-driver who deeply cares about others, strives for a diverse community, is highly collaborative and social, values flexibility, relevance, authenticity and non-hierarchical leadership, and, while dismayed about inherited issues like climate change, has a pragmatic attitude about the work that has to be done to address those issues,” according to a Stanford senior research scholar. 

Other skills that Gen Z brings to the workforce include adaptability, working well with others and having a natural affinity for data analytics, explains eLearning Industry

“Gen Z workers tend to be adaptable and flexible in their approach,” eLearning Industry states. “They are quick to embrace change and can easily adjust to new environments, technologies, and work dynamics. This skill is particularly valuable in today’s rapidly evolving workplace.”


Not every employee in a non-acute healthcare facility needs to know how to take an X-ray, but everyone in the organization does need soft skills, such as communicating with patients and co-workers effectively. Although the healthcare industry is constantly evolving and therefore the types of skills that are needed are always changing, several skills remain essential.
Without these essential skills, facilities could face unintended consequences. “These skill gaps can have a negative impact on the quality of care provided, and can also lead to increased costs and risks for healthcare organizations,” according to Health TechZone.  
“Soft skills such as critical thinking, organization, innovation, cooperation, leadership and interpersonal communications are vital to business operations,” explains SHRM. “They are primary drivers of flexibility, collaboration, problem solving and dependability.”
By boosting employees’ soft skills, healthcare facilities can improve professionalism in their offices. They can also optimize staff members’ skills to address current and new challenges to increase workplace efficiency. 


While Gen Z lacks some traditional soft skills, they bring other advantages to the workplace. For example, they are the most technologically-savvy generation, are accustomed to working in hybrid and remote environments, and have learned the most current clinical and office best practices while in college. 

“Gen Z, the generation born after Millennials, are digital natives who have never known a world without the Internet and social media,” notes HIGH5. “They are constantly connected, always on the go, and extremely tech-savvy. As a result, Gen Z is often lauded for being entrepreneurial, innovative, and open-minded.”

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