Supporting Employees and Maximizing Profit: The Case for Workforce Development Focused on Self-Regulation

April 3, 2019
Self-Sufficiency, Welfare & Employment
Goal-Oriented Adult Learning in Self-Sufficiency (GOALS), 2014-2020 | Learn more about this project
Supporting Employees and Maximizing Profit: The Case for Workforce Development Focused on Self-Regulation Cover
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  • Pages 12
  • Published 2019


Human service agencies and employers have compatible goals with respect to workforce development among low-income populations. Low-wage workers often experience high rates of job turnover and difficulty advancing to better jobs. This issue has implications for workers’ ability to make ends meet, but employee retention problems also can have consequences for an employer’s bottom line.

Workforce development efforts that enhance the capacities of low-income adults in the labor market can improve outcomes for both employment service program participants and employers. Such efforts have traditionally focused on helping potential or new employees gain hard skills—that is, skills typically included on a resume such as education, work experience, and level of expertise. A large body of evidence suggests, however, that employers are increasingly seeking employees with strong soft skills—that is, character traits, attitudes, and behaviors, rather than technical aptitude or knowledge. Employers sometimes refer to these skills as people skills or interpersonal skills. The benefits of strong soft skills in the workplace are well documented in the literature. Benefits to employers include enhanced productivity, quality and profit. Benefits to employees are enhanced personal interactions, job performance, and career prospects. In fact, soft skills are strong predictors of success in the labor market. The soft skills that employers seek when hiring and that increase the likelihood of success on the job are akin to what psychologists and neuroscientists call self-regulation skills.

Primary Research Questions

  1. 1 What are the soft skills that employers value most and that are correlated with success on the job?
  2. 2 How do these soft skills correspond with self-regulation skills?
  3. 3 How can human service agencies and employers foster self-regulation skills in low-income adults in the labor market?


Human service agencies and employers have a common interest in developing a qualified and productive workforce. This brief presents evidence for developing the self-regulation skills of low-wage labor market participants in order to improve their outcomes and employers’ profitability.

Key Findings and Highlights

Highlights from this brief include: (1) Soft skills most often considered very or extremely important to success in the workplace and that correspond to self-regulation skills include: time management, problem-solving, interpersonal skills, flexibility, work ethic, organizational skills, composure, confidence, perseverance, the ability to focus attention, the ability to delay gratification and control impulses, and emotional intelligence; (2) TANF programs are beginning to look to the research on self-regulation to identify strategies they can implement to strengthen participants’ skills with an eye toward improving participants’ employment outcomes and proactively responding to the needs of the business community; (3) Employers can provide training opportunities and mentoring to develop employees’ self-regulation skills; (4) The investment employers make in their employees can have profitable returns.


This brief is informed by research conducted under the Goal-Oriented Adult Learning for Self-Sufficiency (GOALS) project, funded by the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families. Activities that informed this brief include: (1) a literature synthesis that identified self-regulation skills that may be most relevant for attaining employment-related goals and the environmental influences that can support or inhibit optimal use of these skills, (2) telephone calls and exploratory site visits to document how programs for low-income populations are trying to improve and support use of self-regulation skills and goal attainment, (3) the development of a conceptual framework for understanding the relationship between self-regulation, goal attainment, and employment outcomes, (4) evidence-informed quality improvement activities in TANF programs implementing new interventions focused on self-regulation and goal attainment, and (5) telephone interviews with employers that have engaged in public-private partnerships for workforce development.


Kauff, Jacqueline F. (2019). Supporting employees and maximizing profit: the case for workforce development focused on self-regulation, OPRE Report #2019-41, Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


Cognitive and emotional skills and personality factors that allow people to intentionally control their thoughts, emotions, and behavior (Blair and Raver 2015; Murray et al. 2015; Anderson et al. 2017)
Last Reviewed: April 1, 2019