Once I showed up at client’s location to deliver an employee training session on resiliency.
The HR manager promoted the training inside the company as a short, lunchtime seminar for any employee who was interested.
The HR manager expected a great turnout. With a rash of downsizing, salary cuts, hiring freezes, and process changes; the employees in this organization were pretty stressed out. This training topic seemed like a perfect fit.
Besides the HR person, only five signed up for the workshop. Of those, only one other person showed up. Sound familiar?
The three of us had a fun and meaningful conversation on the topic. I quite enjoyed myself and believe the other two found the workshop to be a valuable use of their time.
Following the session the HR manager and I were scratching our heads, trying to figure out the reason for such low attendance at this workshop and training sessions like it that had been offered the past couple years.
Reasons employees don’t take advantage of training
Based on our discussion, and a little more added reflection, I was able to build a list of reasons for poor attendance. If employees don’t show up at the sessions you offer, it’s time to understand why. Can’t say which apply within this organization or yours, but I bet many of the following problems do contribute to the low attendance.
1. Poor publicity
Sure you sent out an email, but did anyone actually read it? If you’re a person who keeps up on all the organization’s news and announcements, you likely believe that’s a common practice. It’s not. Your single email or break room poster simply are not enough.
2. Employees are too busy
Learning new skills is good but, in the view of most people, isn’t urgent. The problem is that so many other tasks are urgent. Priorities are set. Some activities fall off the bottom of the list due to time constraints. Your training seminar is one of those items that easily gets dropped.
3. Employees mistakenly believe they are too busy
But, you argue, employees do have the time. You know what they need to do and are confident they can fit this workshop into their day. Doesn’t matter. Their perceptions drive their decisions, and they believe they don’t have the time.
4. Employees want to be perceived by others (especially the boss) as being too busy
Now we’re getting somewhere. Employees think everyone else, particularly their managers, believe that training is optional. If they express interest in attending, it’s a blatant admission that they have too much free time. We all know what happens next.
5. No encouragement from managers to attend
It’s possible some employees never thought the training was important or necessary. They may have also thought it wasn’t for them. You know who could clear up these misconceptions? You, their manager. Tell people why it’s important and why you think it’s perfect for them.
6. Training is considered a perk rather than a necessity
This one is weird because employees are more than happy to scoop up all the other perks. Still, training doesn’t have the same demand as free t-shirts.
7. Employees believe they already know everything they need for their jobs
Why would someone be interested in building skills they already have? I know that I don’t. The trick here, if you’re the boss, is to be really clear about what skill mastery looks like and to help employees understand exactly where they are on the journey to attain mastery. Most people still have plenty of room to grow.
8. History of boring, poorly delivered workshops
As a trainer, I can be a pretty harsh judge of bad workshops. Even tough topics can be made interesting with the right approach and some enthusiasm. Don’t deliver bad workshops. Period.
9. Topic isn’t obviously relevant
You know how toddlers can drive you to your wit’s end by asking why after why after why? As adults, that desire to know why still lives inside us. Your workshop needs to have a purpose that connects to something else that matters within the organization.
10. Offered on employee’s free time (i.e. lunch hour)
I understand the justification, especially when the powers-that-be believe #6. Nothing sends a clearer message to employees that your training isn’t important than to make them take it on their time, while they are taking care of a basic biological need (eating). It should be a focused activity and on the company’s dime.
11. Scheduled at bad times of the month or bad times of the day
If you want your employees to attend, you need to accommodate their schedules. This can be tricky. One way to get around this is by providing options that take into account a wide range of scheduling constraints, including online options so people can work at their own pace and at a time that works for them.
12. Employees are afraid that attending will be interpreted as a sign of weakness or deficiency
I’ve done improvement sessions in which the client told me I shouldn’t use any form of the word improve. The concern is that by using that word, I’m implying people are currently inadequate. I have to admit, I have to check an eye-roll every time I hear that. Still, I recognize it’s a thing, and you should too.
13. No incentive for attending
WIIFM? Most of what we do or don’t do in our lives comes down to the answer to the question, “What’s in it for me? Your job is to provide a good answer.
14. Fire-fighting culture that doesn’t value prevention
Urgent trumps important. If your organizational culture cheers the people who tackle emergencies with the greatest skill, people who spend time on important activities like skill development won’t feel valued. Instead, they’ll fill their days looking for emergencies to resolve.
15. Leadership has strong bias for short-term results
Training rarely provides an instant ROI. It’s an investment that pays off over the long-run through incremental improvement.
16. The training isn’t required
If you give people a choice to not attend, a whole bunch of people will take you up on the offer, especially those who, in your opinion, most need the training. Of course, mandatory training creates a new set of challenges, but it at least gets people into the room.
Do something about it
It’s easy to sit around and think that employees who don’t show up simply don’t care. That may be the case, but the question that you need to answer is why they don’t care.
A great employee training program involves much more than booking a room and bringing in a trainer. So roll up your sleeves and get to work. Create a program so good that employees will know that they better sign up early or risk missing out.