Why do Employee Training Programs Get a Bad Name?

Christine Johnson, Cued Forward on

As a learning enthusiast, I jump at the chance to learn something new.  Whether it be to enhance my professional skills, meet people, or learn something completely different, I do my best to attend learning programs offered to me. Since I know most employees are typically not as enthusiastic about training as I am, I decided to do a little research to find out some of the main culprits behind why employee development and training programs get a bad name and how to combat these deterrents.

Too busy

With stacks on their desks or in their inboxes, employees often use the excuse of “too busy” to not attend training programs.  Since many employees will tell you they are always busy, the real reason is often an underlying issue related to the other “get out of training” reasons listed below.

One way to combat the busy excuse is to have a real marketing plan for the training.  A one-time email informing employees that “training is coming” won’t get them out of the desk chairs on a day when they feel buried with work.  Get employees excited.  Does your organization throw a holiday party or plan other festivities during the year?  How is your attendance for those events?  If it is high, promote training programs similarly.

Other ways to help employees get over the “busies” are to schedule the training during downtime in the organization or offer the training in multiple formats.  When doable, on-demand online training can help increase participation since the training is available when the employee is ready.

Lack of employee commitment to training

Hand in hand with employees being too busy is lack of employee commitment to training.  Since over the years training has been viewed as more of a luxury item that can be discarded if the budget gets cut, employees often lack the “umph” to attend training because what is started today in a program may never be finished or even less of a chance, implemented.  I talked with an organization who spent a lot of money on project management training for its leaders to never offer the follow up session that was discussed.  These employees felt like they were left empty handed.

“There are a lot of great things written on white boards and flip charts during training sessions that never leave that space. “

I call this “been there, done that, went nowhere” syndrome.  To overcome this deterrent, organizations have to work hard on follow up and follow through.  There are a lot of great things written on white boards and flip charts during training sessions that never leave that space.  If additional training is needed, assign an owner to make it happen.  If there were key takeaways that everyone in the training needed to remember, the program owner should make sure they get distributed.  (Better yet, next time let a participant be the owner and give them kudos for stepping up.)

With employee development programs being an important factor in retaining employees, there has been an increase a push for organizations to offer meaningful and impactful programs that not only grow employee skillsets, but also help employees work towards their professional goals.

So if you employee is not committed, many times it is because . . .

Managers lack commitment to training

Like an organization’s values and cultures, training commitment really does start at the top.  If top executives are not involved in the communication, roll out, and completion of learning development programs, they often stall.  Since mid-level managers are working towards company goals that are ultimately reported to the executives, managers can easily push training to the side if they have not heard from the executive level the significance of the training and that it is not an option, but a necessity.  Executive communications to their managers about training programs can definitely make or break training success.

There is another phenomena that happens here I call the “scarred employee syndrome” An HR professional told me a story about seeing this first-hand.  Employee accepting and ready for training when she walks by her manager’s desk.  Few minutes later the employee gets up to go to training; her manager sees this, races to the employee’s side, raises her voice at employee, telling her to get back to what she was doing.  The manager then quickly sends an email to the training coordinator that employee cannot participate today.  The next time this same employee is offered an opportunity to attend a training program (in-person, online, or any format), she remains glued to her seat at the time of the training and takes not action.

The best way to combat this is for learning leaders to get genuine buy-in from all levels of leadership prior to announcing the learning opportunity.  Period.  A great tool to get buy-in is a presenting a value proposition to the leadership chain.  The customer is the employee.  The ultimate decision maker of “buying” what you are selling are members of the leadership team.  If you can quickly (key point) demonstrate who, what, where, why, when, and how of the training as well as show the ROI, you have a much better chance of leadership acceptance.

It’s mandatory

I am guilty of this one.  In my career, I have told employees they need to go to training because it is “mandatory.”  Forklift training.  Manager harassment training.  New process or procedure training.  Business certification training.  I, like many others who either coordinate training or conduct the training, know that ultimately everyone needs to attend “mandatory trainings,” but telling someone they must do something generates automatic defensiveness from participants.

Even if the training is required, if your organization is only completing the training to get a sign-off sheet, you are missing a great opportunity to drive home important concepts and teambuilding (even online).

Great tips to get out of the mandatory training ditch include:

  • Promote it as a business necessity with an opportunity to learn (or re-learn) something new. It’s all about marketing on the frontend.
  • Produce or offer a program that is the shortest length possible without compromising content.
  • Make it fun. In order to keep participants engaged in a safety program I implemented, I added quirky music (“Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats), crazy questions with a loose link to safety, and fun comics, pictures, and graphics.
  • Make it a game. Gamification is huge in technology-based training.  Use it in simplest form here through an individual or departmental contest.  Whoever has completes the training by a certain date can enter to win a prize.

I honestly feel that many employees negative attitudes about training stem from past poor learning experiences.  Keeping this in mind, it is important that learning leaders talk with managers and employees before designing training to avoid potential roadblocks.

References and Resources:

3 Reasons Why Employees Aren’t Engaged with Training Programs: https://www.trainingindustry.com/learning-technologies/articles/3-reasons-why-employees-arent-engaged-with-training-programs.aspx

12 Ways to Make Your Training Program a Hit: http://www.amanet.org/training/articles/12-Ways-to-Make-Your-Training-Program-a-Hit.aspx

5 Reasons Why Employee Training is Important: https://blog.elucidat.com/why-employee-training-is-important/

6 Best Practices [Learning Leaders] Can Get Behind: http://www.clomedia.com/2016/11/28/6-best-practices-can-get-behind/

Image Credit: Pixabay


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