Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Training as punishment, or opportunity?

When you sign up employees for a training course or seminar, you do it because you want them to learn and develop skills that will enhance their careers and improve the organization. Right?

Unfortunately, employees don’t always look at training in the same light. Sometimes they feel that they’ve been enrolled in training as a form of punishment, or because they’re deficient in some way.

A headline-making example of training seen as punishment came about last year with US Airways. As a result of high fuel prices, the airlines forced their pilots to take fuel-management courses if they ordered extra fuel for their flights.

US Airways wanted to educate pilots on how wasting fuel negatively impacts the company, while pilots felt cutting back on fuel was dangerous and the mandatory training was an insult to their expertise.

Rebecca Morgan at Grow Your Key Talent summarized the issue in a recent post, saying:

Then US Airways pilots took out an ad that said the airline “embarked on a program of jailintimidation to pressure your captain to reduce fuel loads.” Senior pilots — those who are well aware of the vagaries of flights — were targeted for (gasp!) fuel conservation training.

Their punishment was training!

Part of this is the humiliation they felt at being senior pilots and being relegated to re-training as if they were rookies or didn’t know what they were doing.

One pilot said he felt the airline was “selecting a few and hoping to intimidate the remainder of our pilot group to not add fuel when they feel they might need a little fuel. So hoping if they punish a few, the rest of the pilot group will get in line.”

It’s quite obvious that the pilots were offended by US Airways’ decision, but what should they have done differently?

What could US Airways have done to make pilots see that this training was meant to better their careers and the improve the company, instead of making the training seem like a punishment?


If you clearly communicate the reasons why you want employees to go through training and then listen to what they have to say about it, you will have a much better outcome that what we saw in the US Airways example.

A similar story is replayed everyday in the corporate world. If a manager suddenly signs up an employee for a training course on time management, without talking to them about it first, the employee may start thinking that you believe they’re an inefficient worker or it’s punishment for being late on that last report.

Each time you enroll employees in a training course, communicate your reason for the training and how it will help employees reach their personal career goals, as well as help the company improve overall performance. By discussing your motives for training, employees will start looking at it as less of a punishment and more like an opportunity.

What advice do you have for companies that are having trouble positioning training in a positive light? How do you show employees that training is not a punishment?

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