Not Another Training Session

Training, ranging from voluntary to mandatory, frequently appears on a list of staff expectations. It can also be a source of tension between employees and management. But if training can improve performance in any number of ways, why would anyone oppose it?

Managers attending professional workshops in the past have sometimes observed a few participants hurriedly completing Continuing Education Unit forms and bolting for the door, even before the session has finished. And who among us hasn’t heard the snide remarks and general grumbling during a pre-recertification demonstration?

Defining Training Concepts

In J. H. Bernardin’s Human Resource Management, training is defined as “Any attempt to improve employee performance on a currently held job, or a job related to it” (p. 193). This usually involves skills such as navigating new software or learning turf-care techniques. Conceptually, training is influenced by three factors:

1. Source of motivation (agency or employee)

2. Need for training (voluntary to mandatory)

3. General level of interest (low to high)

The interplay among these factors is depicted as one of the eight areas in Figure 1.

Practically, two of the eight areas can be ignored. If the need and interest are low, and neither agency nor employee feels particularly motivated, then there are no worries--training is a non-issue. Similarly, if all three factors are highly appreciated, then training is the obvious choice and welcomed with enthusiasm--a triple-win. Further, in the region located directly adjacent to enthusiasm, an employee whose level of curiosity (interest) remains high, even though the impetus to attend comes from your agency, cooperation should result.

With four of the eight areas easily accommodated, the “devil” then is in the four remaining areas, to a lesser or greater degree.

In the first instance, if an employee has a high level of interest in training, and your agency is OK with it, but the training won’t result in any gain in status or pay, then the employee may feel disillusioned; “leadership skills” training for staff who have no internal path for advancement often suffers from this dilemma. Similarly, a highly motivated employee seeking self-improvement who does not receive agency support may feel neglected; the management phrase, “It’s not in our budget,” has this effect.

On the opposite side of the figure are two equally unfortunate scenarios, both involving an overbearing agency. Reluctance is provoked by forcing an otherwise willing employee to attend training at inconvenient times, such as weekends or evenings, for example. Outright resistance can be expected from an employee who does not see any use in attending whatsoever, such as one who is both vested and entrenched by the “We’ve always done it this way” attitude.

It is crucial to note here that an employee who feels either disillusioned or neglected eventually may become reluctant or resistant as frustration builds.

Affecting Change

As with many other tools previously presented in this column, Figure 1 requires managers to take an honest look at their philosophy and its effect on attitudes toward staff. Do you value training, or view it as a sometimes necessary evil? Do you conduct regular conversations with your employees about either their interest in or motivation to acquire new skills? Are you committed to staying ahead of the education curve, or are you constantly playing catch-up and/or dodging the issue?

(Of course, we must acknowledge that some agencies do not have training funds in their budgets, or worse, have had to cut out training to balance the budgets.)

The answers to these questions depend on making a conscious distinction between two similar terms: training and development. Whereas training is focused primarily on “doing,” development promotes holistic fulfillment through “being.” Development, then, is defined as, “Providing learning opportunities designed to help employees grow” (p. 193).

An agency that appears to be heavy-handed, inflexible, unsupportive or “tight” with its staff funds may suffer the unfortunate consequences of employees muttering “not another training session,” with the reluctance or resistance that accompanies such discontent.

On the other hand, if your agency is dedicated to a development philosophy--and provides the budget to support it--most of the problems described above will seldom occur. Your employees will recognize and appreciate the sincere commitment to their professional well-being, and will respond in kind.

Works cited:

Bernardin, J.H. Human Resource Management: An Experiential Approach. 4th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill Irwin, 2007.

Kim S. Uhlik is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Hospitality, Recreation and Tourism Management at San Jose State University. He can be reached via e-mail at