Is Mandatory Training Really Mandatory? Is it Legal?

Feb 11, 2014
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Finding the right balance between mandatory training and everyday work requirements can be tough. Employees have demanding schedules with filled calendars. But add in mandatory training? Prepare yourself for all kinds of reasons why your employees can’t make it. After all, you hired them to work.

Training often becomes secondary and loses importance over time. And if every training session is labeled mandatory, well, you guessed it…it’s like the boy who cried wolf.

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Mandatory = Negative

Employees hate the word mandatory. The thought of something that is mandatory and takes priority over everything else causes people to cringe. We’ve all heard the complaints about “mandatory” training:
• It’s going to cause me to work over lunch to fit in the extra time.
• Training is always scheduled on Fridays!
• Again? We just had this training class 6 months ago!
• I have client meetings.
• They say it’s mandatory, but I skip the sessions and no one seems to care.
• That training has nothing to do with anything I’m doing now. It’s a waste of time.

Sound familiar? If you schedule training and routinely have employees decline your invite, let’s try to determine if it’s really mandatory to begin with.

Is it Really Mandatory?

You’ve heard the water cooler talk, “All of this training, accomplishes what exactly?” If your employees are drowning in training sessions and all are considered important, how can you expect anyone to take it seriously? To determine if a training session is really mandatory, ask:

• Is it compliance related? If so, the answer is most definitely yes. The best way to handle this type of training is to provide a few options and times that accommodate everyone. Compliance training is crucial and should be tied to performance goals and expectations. If it isn’t, it can impact your business significantly. For example, you may lose contracts or the ability to bid on federal work if you are not successfully providing compliance training.

Provide enough time for employees to complete the training and send reminders with training links. For example, try to schedule a session on a Tuesday at 9 am and again at 2 pm. And maybe again on Thursday later in the week and a session the following Wednesday. Providing options gives everyone a chance to schedule work items around the training. It also removes the likelihood that someone will say they have a conflict. Avoid scheduling on Friday afternoons or early Monday mornings. If training is not completed, HR can escalate to leadership.

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• Is the training a recap of an earlier session? If you’re trying to provide another session to grab those who missed the prior one, tailor your message to that group. Don’t send out mass emails addressed to everyone. They will likely go ignored. Not to mention, you’ll spark conversation over who is to attend and “I’ve already gone to that one, so I’m not going again” comments. At this point, everyone is confused and no one takes it seriously. If you have it, use your mobile HR software to send out your targeted message to those who need it.

• Is the word “mandatory” being overused? If it’s not compliance-related, consider using another word that is more descriptive to engage your audience. Make training compelling. Interesting. If employees feel that they will gain something of use, they’ll be more likely to attend. Employees are interested in expanding their knowledge and regularly look for training programs and certifications. They do this because they are interested in the topic and understand how it relates to their profession and career growth. Tailor training for employee groups. Provide insight as to why it’s important and how it relates to their individual performance but also the success of the business.


Strike a Balance

Training is important. We’ve established that. But what’s specified as mandatory needs to be reevaluated. Provide a balance between mandatory and “nice to haves.” Let’s face it, not every training session is a priority. Follow these tips.

• Schedule training in advance and give multiple options for completion.
• Determine which trainings are a priority and schedule those around the others that are “less mission critical.” Mix it up. Don’t schedule everything at the beginning of the year.
• Use the employee birthdate as an “anniversary” for completion of high-priority training that is required to be accounted for on an annual basis.
• Utilize your employee engagement software to find out what training your employees would be most interested in and tailor some to their needs.
• Get leadership support. The company culture should support training and encourage everyone to participate in a timely manner. Training is just as important as client work or project deadlines. If leaders are skipping training, the message is clear. It’s not of value. Change the message.
• Send clear messages. If training is required, don’t apologize for it. I’ve been to sessions and the instructor says, “I’m sorry that you all have to be here. I know you’ve heard this before, but we have to do it again.” Wrong message.

Add Value

Balance your training with value. Employees are more willing to participate if they understand the why. If it’s ambiguous and appears to have no relevance to the job or to the business, no one will care. Understanding goes a long way in helping to find that balance of having to and wanting to.

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