What to do when your training isn’t working

What to do when your training isn't working

If you’ve landed on this article, you might have a sneaking suspicion that the workforce training you’ve been using hasn’t been very effective and you’re now wondering how to overcome this potential lack of adequate training at work.

Maybe you were expecting a certain change in employees’ behavior after the training, but it hasn’t happened. Or maybe you just want to find out if there’s any way to know for sure that your training was worth the investment you made.

It’s certainly not unreasonable to want to measure your outcomes and track your progress. In fact, it’s a good idea.

If you want them to be successful, your civility initiatives should be getting the same kind of attention as other important internal efforts related to sales or productivity.

Make no mistake: bad workplace behaviors like sexual harassment, discrimination, and bullying can do catastrophic damage to an organization. A bare minimum of required training might check a few compliance boxes, but it’s unlikely to prevent this kind of damage.

You need to make sure training actually works and changes employees’ behavior for the long-term. So, how do you know when your training isn’t doing it’s job? Start with the following steps.

Measure Success at Each Stage of Training

Employee training might seem like one, single step.

However, there are actually several steps that need to happen throughout training and beyond in order for employees to actually learn new information and change their behavior.

If you’re concerned that your training isn’t working, start by breaking it down into the following stages and assessing the success of each one.


The very first step of any good employee training program is awareness. In fact, many training programs focus exclusively on this stage, and fail at many of the ones that should follow.

But awareness needs to be much more than just a simple understanding that a problem exists, although that knowledge shouldn’t be taken for granted, either. Employees also need an understanding of why the problems matter — specifically, why they matter to each employee as it relates to their jobs.

Get the bonus content: 4 Discussion Starters to Troubleshoot Employee Training

If employees internalize the fact that incivility at work has real and serious consequences not just for the people involved, but for the entire organization, they will pay attention like their jobs depend on it. If not, they’ll continue to see training as something that only applies to more to the harassed and the harassers (neither of which they expect to be at any point).

Actionable Knowledge

If your employees seem to have a grasp of why civil behavior at work is actually important and not just part of some compliance exercise, the next thing to check is for actionable knowledge.

Do your employees know exactly what to do when they encounter bad behavior? Do they know exactly which behaviors are off-limits, for example? And do they know how to respond when they witness it or even are accused of it themselves?

Generalities don’t help at this stage. Actual scripts and examples can go a long way compared to basic education. If your training doesn’t have it, that’s a problem.


If your employees seem to have a solid grasp on the content of the training material, the next question to ask is whether they’ve had a chance to practice the material actively.

It’s much easier to choose the right course of action or identify appropriate behaviors on a written quiz or in a sterile testing environment.

In these situations, students can review the material and respond at their own pace. However, in the real world, they won’t have these luxuries.

If your training program doesn’t include opportunities for employees to actually practice the lessons they’ve learned, there’s a good chance that the training won’t be effective.

Related post: Why Learning Requires Doing (And What That Means for Employee Training)


Even a training program that has a good foundation of awareness, is specific about expectations, and has given employees plenty of time to practice can be ineffective in the long run if it’s never reviewed after the initial training.

Your employees already have a lot on their plates at work and at home. It’s unreasonable to expect them to remember the training material weeks or months after they initially learned it, especially if it has never been reviewed in that time.

If you’ve found that training is effective initially but doesn’t last, it’s time to implement some review methods. You can use microlearning to deliver smaller, more impactful lessons over time, or integrate training review into other regularly scheduled tasks or meetings.

Get the bonus content: 4 Discussion Starters to Troubleshoot Employee Training

Check Your Reporting Infrastructure

A lack of complaints certainly doesn’t mean that your training is working. In fact, the worst kind of workforce problems tend to fester silently until they explode. A lack of complaints despite quality training generally means that employees still don’t feel comfortable delivering bad news.

If you want your employees training to work, you might need to make it a little easier and less risky for employees to report their colleagues’ bad behavior.

Have you made sure there are multiple ways for employees to report behavior that don’t require them going through their immediate manager? Are these reporting methods widely known? Employees generally don’t love taking the time to make a report, and they certainly won’t do it if the only way to complain is to the person they’re having problems with.

Get Serious About Accountability

In many of the worst and most headline-grabbing cases of bad workplace behavior we’ve seen, it only takes a single person to do unspeakable emotional damage and invite six-figure lawsuits.

No matter how good your employee training is, it’s not likely to work for big shots who have gotten the message again and again that regular rules don’t apply to them. Because of the money they bring in or the power they wield within an organization, employees are often terrified to report any bad behavior by these powerful employees — and sometimes rightfully so, as those who have reported bad behavior have often seen their reports ignored, or have even been retaliated against as a result.

If leaders aren’t willing to back up stated values with accountability for everyone, your training doesn’t stand a chance of working.

Learn more: How to Spot and Stop a Super-Harasser

Leaders need to hold the rest of the workforce accountable, too. Skills like good communication and apologizing should be treated as essential business tools that employees absolutely need to be successful at your organization. Incorporating evaluations of these skills into job interviews and annual reviews is a good way to remind your employees that they’re important.

How to Get Help

The bottom line is that employee training will only be worth the investment if you can avoid the huge costs in lost productivity, employee turnover, and even lawsuits that bad behavior invites.

Truly effective training requires much more than a few hours a few times a year. Otherwise, it’s just a waste of time — and it might not even fool compliance officials into thinking that you’ve made a serious effort to prevent a toxic workplace culture.

True change only comes when the training’s values are aligned with leadership’s actions and words, and when there’s a real commitment to changing workplace culture for the better.

Making this happen can seem complicated, but it gets much easier when you’re working with professionals who specialize in workplace culture change.

If you’re ready to overhaul your training to make it more effective, we hope you reach out to us at ELI. Our training team has an extensive legal background, and our award-winning programming is designed to change workplace culture for the long-term.

We work with organizations of all types and sizes, and offer training in a variety of formats to work with your employees’ needs and schedules. For more employer solutions to lack of training in the workplace, start here by requesting a free quote from one of our team members, or contact us today to get started with our professional training partner to help your organization embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion.

1 Comment
  • Karma chador wangmo says:

    What are the solution for the problem
    1. Employees are self centered
    2.lack of accountability and professionalism
    3.lack of professional trainer
    4. Lack of skills and formal training
    5. Obsoleted training method or homogeneous training
    6. Lack of guidance, procedures and job description

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