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The Soft Skills Gap: What Issues Do Managers Complain About the Most?

What is wrong with kids today?!

There can be no doubt that today’s newest new young workers are displaying their relative youth and lack-of-experience as young people have always done. That’s part of the story. So then why does all the evidence show that the soft skills gap is widening? Is there truly a generational difference in the soft skills gap manifested by today’s newest new young workforce?

Managers tell us every day in our research some version of what one middle-aged manager in a pharmaceutical company told me: “When I was young and inexperienced, I may have been naïve or immature, but I knew enough to wear a tie, make eye contact, say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘yes sir’ and ‘yes ma’am,’ and when to shut up and keep my head down and do the grunt work without having to be told over and over again.”

Indeed, the incidence and insistence of managers complaining about the soft skills of their new young workers has risen steadily year after year since we began tracking it in the mid-1990s, when Generation Xers were the “New Dogs” on the scene.  Specifically, what issues do managers complain about most? Here’s what managers most often say:


“They are unprofessional.”

“They have no self-awareness.”

“They don’t take personal responsibility or hold themselves accountable.”

“They need an attitude adjustment.”

“Their work habits are terrible.”

“Their people skills are terrible.”

“They don’t know how to think, learn, and communicate without checking a device.”

“They don’t think critically.”

“They don’t know how to problem-solve, make decisions, and plan.”

“They have problems deferring to authority.”

“They don’t appreciate context and see where they fit in.”

“They have no sense of self-sacrifice for the greater good.”

“What ever happened to citizenship, service, and teamwork?”


There is a growing gap between the expectations of employers and the reality of how today’s new young talent is showing up in the workplace.  Today’s young stars may well show up with the latest and greatest tools and tricks. Indeed, many of them seem to have developed almost “super-powers” in their chosen areas of interest and focus. They are often masters of the newfangled. What they are missing –way too often and more and more— is the old-fashioned basics. What many refer to as “the soft skills.”

This content originally appeared in our Just Thinking Newsletter.