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Role of Social Emotional Learning for Employee Training

It’s clear that employees value training, but what type of training is needed? Often skills and compliance training is all that employees receive on the job. However, this leaves out critical training, specifically social emotional learning that really is the missing piece of the puzzle. 

Why? There’s a disconnect between what employers look for in qualified job candidates and what skills they actually bring to a job that can solve these needs. Let’s look at the statistics.

What do companies want?

In a recent Business Roundtable/Change the Equation survey, 98 percent of CEOs reported they have problems finding employees with the competencies and training to fill open positions. They state, while applicants may be technically proficient, they don’t have the skills needed to be productive members of the company.

What are employees lacking?

According to a Leadership IQ study, almost half of new hires or 48 percent fail within 18 months on the job. And just 11 percent of those failures are due to a lack of hard skills, while the remaining 89 percent are from a lack of soft skills, including 22 percent of them because they are unable to understand and manage emotions.

So, as you can see there is a need to add social emotional learning to your employee training program. Let’s discuss how to build this into your learning program to create stronger employees and less turnover.

What is social emotional learning and why is it beneficial?

Social emotional learning is often considered an educational learning tool, but it can and should easily be translated to employees. Social and emotional learning or (SEL) is the process through which people understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships and make responsible decisions. “


There are many benefits for students, but these same benefits relate to employees on the job.


  1. Builds company culture

If employees did their job in a bubble, there’s no need for SEL. However, that’s not the case. They have to interact with team members, managers, customers, vendors and contractors. So with all these personalities brings a need for social and emotional training on how to best interact on a day to day basis. The more employees are prepared, the better their on-the-job performance will be.

  1. Less disciplinary action

It’s obvious when someone is not doing their job, but why? For example, it could be a bad relationship with a manager, a problem with customer interactions or lack of autonomy. You usually never know because the employee either quits or gets fired. A better outcome is using SEL to better train employees on how to navigate these potential tricky situations. That way, there is less need for disciplinary action or HR intervention.

  1. Happier on the job

We all know stress leads to a host of health issues. It also causes employees to withdraw and not give their full potential at work. By using SEL, you can equip employees with methods and ways to manage on-the-job stress. You can also teach how to emotionally deal with problems so that you create healthier and happier employees who are also more productive. 

  1. More successful

Building SEL makes employees more well rounded. They have the technical skills to do the job well, but they also have the emotional skills needed to problem solve. Work environments have tasks, but they also involve people with different personalities, SEL helps employees navigate the nuisances and in the end makes them more successful. 

  1. Helps with goal setting 

SEL makes employees aware of their environments and how their skill sets help the greater good of the company. Once they can step back and look at where they can add value, this helps to better set personal goals. And with goals created, this aids in personal growth which also benefits their on the job performance.

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Steps to incorporate social emotional learning 

Now that you know some of the advantages, how do you ensure SEL is part of your training program? Here are a few simple steps you can take to get to incorporate it into your employee learning.

1. Define core capabilities

To implement this strategy you need to look at what your core capabilities are as a company. In other words, what is your vision, values and business strategies? Once you have these, define what your key performance indicators are. KPIs become a measurable value that tell you how effective you are at achieving the core capabilities you set. Then you can create the framework of your performance management plan using these tools. This will help you drive social emotional learning changes within your company.

2.  Assess employees

Next, you want to gauge what social emotional skills your employees possess. Just like other hard skills, some employees may be stronger than others in SEL workplace responses. There are few approaches you can take to finding this out. You can survey employees and ask scenario questions. Then you can compare results across the country,

The other option is using some sort of emotional measurement like the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test™ or MSCEIT for short. This will give you an overall view of your employees’ emotional intelligence scores. And how these align or miss the mark with your performance management plan.

3. Design the training

Once you obtain your employees’ emotional intelligence scores, you’ll have a baseline. From this baseline, you’ll want to develop training courses that use SEL tactics. According to the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations, there should be four categories covered. These include self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management.


  • Self awareness

This is recognition of one’s efforts. Basically, how does an employee emotionally respond to praise? How self-aware are they?  What is their self confidence level and would they give themselves an accurate self evaluation?


  • Self management

This is a regulation function. In other words, how much self-control does an employee have over their emotional reactions? What is their level of trustworthiness? Are they conscientious of co-workers' feelings?  How adaptable are they to change?  What drives them to new achievements or to take on new initiatives?


  • Social awareness

Social awareness is self-management. This includes self-control which means how does an employee keep disruptive emotions in check? In addition transparency, meaning how honest is an employee on the job? How does an employee adapt or how flexible are they to changing situations? How do they overcome obstacles? Do they meet company standards for excellence? And how eager are they to take on new projects or opportunities?

  • Relationship management

Relationship management speaks to the ability for an employee to interact with others. Do they guide or inspire others or teams as a whole? How well do they give feedback or provide guidance? Do they influence team members? How well do they listen and then respond based on what they have heard? Can they lead team members in a different direction if that makes more sense? How do they handle conflict? On the flipside, how do they bond and build relationships? 

4. Assess your program

The final step is to keep your program fluid. Go back and reassess how your employees are changing. You can retest their social emotional learning. You can also look at customer service scores and even employee turnover. These are all areas that increased SEL learning can make a positive impact. You may find out through your analysis that certain skills need lessons planned around these topics. 


SEL employee training activities

Now that you know the process of implementing SEL, what training activities lend themselves well to this type of training? Here are some activities for social-emotional learning that benefit on-the-job success.


  • Role playing activities

It’s easier for employees to understand key concepts when real-life examples are given. That’s why role playing is a beneficial SEL activity. For example, if you are teaching customer support training and rolling out a new call center platform the information can be overwhelming. However, if you have employees act out key customer interactions, they can better see the new call center platform in action. In other words, it takes key concepts and provides anecdotes for applying these.

  • Social learning demos

As we’ve said before, in an ideal world, tasks are created and carried out to completion on time. The reality is, employees deal with different personalities every day and how they react to one situation may be totally different from the next. In order to set them up for success, use social learning demos. These paint the picture of a situation using emotions and motivations. That way, employees can better understand how to reach if for example, their viewpoint is met with angry opposition.

  • Simulation exercises

Not all your employees directly interact with your customers. However, every team member serves your customers. So, simulation exercises are a great way for all your employees to understand the pain points of your customers and what they are looking for in terms of solutions. So talk to your customer service team to identify top customer complaints and emotional reactions. Then build simulation exercises using these examples. This will help employees better understand your customers and how they are personally working to solve these key issues. Plus, it helps employees understand any personal biases they may have and how to eliminate these. 

  • Peer to peer learning

Part of SEL is learning from others. Every employee has a different view point and a different emotional response to the same situations. That’s why it’s beneficial to incorporate peer to peer learning as part of your SEL training. Create small employee groups and then give them a key issue as part of the training. This provides a non judgemental platform to discuss the issue at hand and bring personal viewpoints on how to best resolve it. Employees can learn from one another and offer solutions they may not have considered in past situations. 


  • Gamification in training

Gamification is a great way to improve social emotional learning for employee training. If you aren’t familiar with gamification in training, it’s using games to help employees learn. Games can teach empathy, communication and relationship building as well. By developing games with key scenarios, employees will navigate tough situations and learn how to react appropriately. For example, create difficult customer conversations or a co-worker who is late on tasks. Then, using a game format, have employees solve these issues. This will help employees tap into emotional responses when on-the-job.

  • Coaching 

Coaching was once thought of a purely senior management function. And while executive coaching is still very valuable, all employees can really benefit. Sitting down with a third-party is helpful for social emotional learning. An employee may not feel comfortable telling a supervisor certain issues they are having. On the other hand, they can speak freely to a coach and this person can provide valuable feedback in terms of how to handle situations better or differently. Coaches can also provide tools to make tough situations run smoother.

  • Elaboration

Another learning strategy activity for SEL training is elaboration. This involves creating exercises that get employees to elaborate on what they would do to solve a problem and create a solution. By talking through each step needed, employees will use emotions and feelings to describe their actions. This raises attention to how SEL can be woven into conflict resolution. And when employees can see how their emotional reactions to given situations affect them, they will understand how to change negative behavior they have not noticed in the past. 

What impact will SEL have on your company?

We’ve discussed how social emotional learning is not only beneficial in the classroom, but also for adults on-the-job. By incorporating certain training exercises around SEL, your employees will become more well rounded. In addition, your company culture will reap the benefits as will your customers. Although SEL is often overlooked within company training, it shouldn’t be. Create content and exercises for social emotional learning and see how your business is impacted. 


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