Learning & Development

How to Deal with Employees Who Balk at the Need for Training

Training employees can take a lot of time and resources, but it’s necessary in any organization—whether to educate staff on new industry developments, promote key skills, or simply to give them familiarity to the organization and its culture and processes.

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One of the biggest challenges an organization faces with training efforts is reaching employees who aren’t engaged, and few trainees are as disengaged as those that simply don’t believe they need the training in the first place.

There are a number of reasons for employees thinking they don’t need training, and they can come from any level of the organization. Reasonable efforts should be taken to encourage employees to engage with the training they need, but only up to a point.

Here we share some insights on the subject, including some from several experts in the field.

Identify the Source of Resistance

It’s hard to convince someone they need training without first striving to understand why they feel like they don’t need the training in the first place.

“There are, of course, always a few people who say that they don’t need or want training,” says Dee Clayton of Simply Amazing Training. “In my experience, these break down into two groups, those that are overconfident and those that are not confident enough. Both of these groups have valid objections and the key is to get underneath what the issue is, why they don’t think they need the training and then resolve the issue at the root cause.”

A third group are those who simply feel like they don’t have time, according to Polly Kay, Senior Digital Marketing Manager at English Blinds. She says many people who are resistant to training may push back based on logistical concerns.

For example, “the employee feels that the training will inconvenience them, or take them away from doing their regular work that they will have to make back up later.”

Convey the Need

Often trainees lack engagement because they simply don’t see the need for the training. “Why do I need to know about new data privacy laws?,” “Public speaking skills aren’t needed for my position,” “That situation comes up at most once per year.”

Part of the role of the trainer, in coordination with the manager, is to convey the need for the training to the trainees. It could be a new technology that has the potential to give the company an edge over competitors if successfully leveraged, an industry trend that will leave the organization at a disadvantage if ignored, or a new law or regulation that carries potentially significant liability for those not in compliance.

Whatever the need, connecting the dots between the need and the training can help employees understand why they are being asked to participate.

What’s In It for the Trainee?

Let’s face it: not all employees care enough about the good of the company to be swayed to participate in what they see as otherwise unnecessary training. But training has real benefits for employees too; the ones who recognize that are more likely to be better engaged.

“Firstly, to encourage the employee to accept the training, you need to explain why you decided to issue it in the first place,” says Steve Pritchard, HR Consultant at Anglo Liners. “Whether the training is to provide them with the skills needed for a new role, a response to feedback which highlighted a particular area as a weakness, or simply a refresher course in skills they’ve not used for a while, be clear and transparent as to why the training is deemed necessary. If staff continue to object, remind them that this could potentially limit their chances of progressing up the company.”

Use Proper Framing

Sometimes training can be seen as a punishment or a public means of announcing an employee’s shortcomings. Simply thinking about how to reframe the training into something more positive can eliminate some resistance.

“The word ‘training’ can have negative connotations in some organizations and so the first thing to consider is the use of that word,” says Lisa Sansom, MBA, MAPP, PCC of LVS Consulting. “Perhaps it can be ‘professional development,’ for example, or something else that is meaningful to the organization and the employee.”

Culture of Continuous Learning

Just as safety or cost cutting can be encouraged as part of the company culture, training can become a core company value, if encouraged properly. To avoid push-back from would-be trainees, “buy-in to a culture of continuous learning is critical and HR professionals need to be creative with their offerings to help senior-level staff participate,” says Leesa Schipani, SHRM-SCP, Partner at KardasLarson, LLC. She adds that participation from senior level staff can help promote such a culture.

The Bottom Line

Even after following all these strategies, an organization may find that some employees are still resistant to training. Ultimately, that organization needs to evaluate the value of the employee relative to the goals facing resistance.

“If a person obviously needs training (be it skills, leadership or social) and he or she ‘balks’ at it, that person should be nixed,” says Robin Lee Allen, Managing Partner for Esperance Private Equity.

“I faced this at a turnaround situation in the southeastern U.S. There was a group, led (informally) by a prominent and well-respected manager that was staunch in insisting that training was not necessary and that the ‘problem’ was with customers,” says Allen. “I fired that manager at a factory-wide meeting along with two of his deputies. We implemented the training soon afterwards.”

Effective training can mean the difference between a highly successful organization and a mediocre or sub-par organization. But putting together an effective training program will only go so far if employees aren’t engaged.

There are a variety of methods to promote greater engagement, but at the end of the day, companies should be prepared to make clear when training is mandatory and expected as part of the job.