Too Busy, Too Good, Too Old – Why Employees Resist Training

Posted by Belinda Huckle  |  On December 19, 2022  |  In For HR/L&D Professionals

A reluctance from staff to undertake skills training is an all too common problem that L&D professionals face. And whether the resistance is voiced or left unsaid, it’s unlikely that your team will reap the full benefit of the training if their heart is not really in it. So why employees resist training and further skills development when they have so much to gain can be a difficult question to answer. 

In this blog, we’ll identify the main reasons why your team may feel underwhelmed about the upcoming L&D programme and provide strategies to help you overcome resistance to training.

1. Why Employees Resist Training – They Say They’re Too Busy

Man who has resisted training as he has too much work on.

These days, many employees have overflowing inboxes and to-do lists that never end. So when you want them to take a few hours out of their busy schedule to attend a training session…it’s pretty obvious to us why employees resist training – it’s simply adding to their workload, and the longer-term benefit isn’t seen as enough of a reason to squeeze something else into their schedule on top of their BAU.

If your team feels they’re too busy to participate in the programme from the start, even if they do attend, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to fully focus. Post-training, they may also struggle to utilise their learnings as the pressure of keeping up with their demanding daily workflows will distract them from consciously putting their new skills to use. 

Is it any wonder those in this category turn pale at the mention of an all-day workshop?

The fix: To help your busy employees out, find ways to lighten their workload in the lead-up to the training. 

Help them to delegate some tasks to others in the team who are not so stretched. Or offer to extend a looming deadline to take the pressure off.

One aspect that often gets overlooked is getting the person’s manager on board to encourage their direct reports to prioritise the training programme. The assurance that they have their boss’ support has a twofold benefit:

  • It tells the employees that their boss and organisation value their growth
  • It’s easier for employees to give undivided attention to the training programme 

Most importantly, you should make a point of explaining what the key takeaways of the training programme will be and how this will benefit them in their role. 

Knowing that you recognise they are busy, are willing to offer support and that the training is a valuable use of their time, can make a huge difference in how they approach it and what they’ll get out of it.

2. They Believe They’re Too Senior (Too Old)

Older employees (often resist training)

If you’re looking to offer training to more senior people within your organisation, there’s a chance these more mature members of staff may feel a tad underwhelmed, especially if they think their extensive hands-on experience is superior to anything a training session arranged by L&D can deliver.

Some senior members of your team may even feel a little offended that they have been asked to attend, especially if the directive is coming from a younger manager. 

The fix: Take some time to explain the types of skills they will learn and how the new learnings will positively impact their role moving forward. 

If they are still not convinced, talk to them about being a role model for the less experienced members of staff. Encourage them to share their ‘coal face’ experiences and war stories during the workshop as this will help to bring the training to life. 

You could even involve them in the process of selecting the right corporate training partner to deliver the programme (if that’s feasible). When your senior staff members are enthusiastic about the training they encourage others to do the same, which greatly increases the perceived value and benefits gained.

3. Too Good

While it’s obviously great having high-performing employees on your team, they can be reluctant to attend any form of training that they feel is ‘beneath’ them. Maybe they think they already have a complete understanding of the subject matter (and have a pool of work to prove it). 

So they may just misinterpret the invitation to attend as a sign that someone is not happy with their efforts and is asking them to change something about their working style.

The fix: As mentioned in the example above, taking the time to explain the key takeaways of the programme, and how this will benefit them in their daily roles is a must. You might also ask them to come along as a mentor to assist with developing other staff. 

This provides them with a ‘reason’ to attend that goes above and beyond what is expected, giving them an added sense of responsibility and control.

All the same, it’s important to make sure that the employee in question does indeed need training. For instance, before you register someone for a business presentation skills training programme, make sure you’ve evaluated their presentation skills to make a fair decision.

4. Why Employees Resist Training – Resistance to Change

For many people, change can be scary and instantly invite resistance – especially in a workplace environment where employees have a set way of doing things. This can mean that any mention from L&D about training that aims to introduce new procedures, techniques or strategies is met with a reluctance to participate for fear of rocking the boat. 

Then, there will be those who adopt the “If it’s not broken, why fix it?” attitude. And others who feel a little too comfortable with how things are done now and worry that any changes that are implemented will lead to more work or additional processes.

The fix: In this case, it’s important to alleviate stress around these issues and promote positivity about change. 

Share clear outcomes that are expected from the training session and how it is likely to save time or improve efficiency. It’s important to let individual participants know why they’ve been selected for the training programme over anyone else. All the same, give them the bigger picture about what the gains will be for the organisation, department and team. 

Understanding the why is a great motivator and can help deter a negative mindset about change.

5. Previous Experiences

Male employee looks bored and like he is resisting the training being given.

If you’re still asking why employees resist training, then our final suggestion is that it could be because members of your team have taken part in training in the past and didn’t get any hands-on practice time, practical tips or personalised coaching. Having experienced poor quality training is very likely to have made them feel a little sceptical about the value of any future programmes. 

This also includes instances where the training introduced learnings that were valuable, but no effort was made after the programme to encourage employees to use the skills to grow and improve.

The fix: To be sure the L&D programme you choose delivers a strong ROI and is time and money well spent, it’s essential that first and foremost you have a clear understanding of exactly how any new skills will be utilised in the workplace. Share this with your team when you invite them to participate, so they can immediately see the value and know when and how they can use the new learnings to do things better.

Next, it’s important to carefully vet your corporate training partner – it’s the key to achieving quality learning outcomes. Things to look for include their previous expertise and experience, training style, personalisation of training, and more. 

For more help with this, read our blog post on 10 Things to Look for When Selecting a Corporate Training Partner.

Understand the Why to Overcome Resistance to Workplace Training

If you sense reluctance or resistance to the learning and development programmes, start by looking for the why. Are they too busy to fit it in? Do they feel they are at a point in their career where additional training is not necessary? Maybe they think it’s beneath their skill level, or they are afraid of change, or they’ve had a bad experience with training previously which had made them sceptical about the value of any formal training opportunity. 

Whatever the reason, with the right approach and strategies (and the right training partner, of course) it’s possible to get your team ready to learn new skills and enhance existing ones.

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Belinda Huckle

Written By Belinda Huckle

Co-Founder & Managing Director

Read Bio

Belinda is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of SecondNature International. With a determination to drive a paradigm shift in the delivery of presentation skills training both In-Person and Online, she is a strong advocate of a more personal and sustainable presentation skills training methodology.

Belinda believes that people don’t have to change who they are to be the presenter they want to be. So she developed a coaching approach that harnesses people’s unique personality to build their own authentic presentation style and personal brand.

She has helped to transform the presentation skills of people around the world in an A-Z of organisations including Amazon, BBC, Brother, BT, CocaCola, DHL, EE, ESRI, IpsosMORI, Heineken, MARS Inc., Moody’s, Moonpig, Nationwide, Pfizer, Publicis Groupe, Roche, Savills, Triumph and Walmart – to name just a few.

A total commitment to quality, service, your people and you.