Lackluster Harassment Prevention Training Can Be Turned Around

‘Not again’ dread about harassment training needs to be addressed head-on

Allen Smith, J.D. By Allen Smith, J.D. November 15, 2017
Lackluster Harassment Prevention Training Can Be Turned Around

​Even in an era where the need for harassment training should be self-apparent, many employees dread the instruction. Some complain that they are too busy to complete training. Others think the sessions will be boring, uncomfortable or redundant. It's up to HR to get employees engaged with their training programs.

To ward off boredom, try spreading the training out over a cluster of three or more short workshops spaced to once per quarter rather than a single long day, recommended DeDe Church, principal with DeDe Church & Associates in Austin, Texas.

Harassment and discrimination training can make employees feel uncomfortable, she noted. "They worry that they'll be forced to talk about highly sensitive topics or made to feel like they've done something wrong," she said. "It's important that companies understand this hesitancy and take time to thoughtfully craft the training invitation."

"Trainers need to know that not everyone in the room is going to be excited to be there," said Joyce Chastain, SHRM-SCP, a regulatory compliance consultant with The Krizner Group in Tallahassee, Fla. She typically begins each class by asking how many have participated in such sessions before.

"Almost every hand will go up," she said. "I acknowledge that they probably already know the rules," so she and attendees chat about how those guidelines might apply to their workplace. "Before you know it, an hour has gone by and they have successfully completed the annual training."

[SHRM members-only HR Q&A: What training must employers provide to employees]


Entice employees to come to training. Sessions over breakfast or lunch usually draw more participants, she added. "To encourage attendance at an early-morning training, a client held a drawing among all participants for a $500 gift card. It worked. The room was packed."

However, not every organization can afford such a generous prize.

"We operate with very limited resources and have to be efficient to accomplish the mandatory trainings," said Maria Buckley, general counsel with the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. But at larger lectures, there are door prizes, such as a fleece vest with the Joslin logo or tickets to a Joslin-sponsored event.

Other carrots might include a gift certificate to a local restaurant or permission to leave early on a Friday, Church said.


As a last resort, HR sometimes uses coercion to get employees to attend.

"Some employees respond to being shamed via e-mail when their names appear on the list of those who haven't completed training," noted Kerry Marinelli, SHRM-SCP, principal people strategy consultant for SolveHR Inc. in Boulder, Colo.

The training program at Joslin is bolstered by the fact that its annual review process requires employees to attach the transcripts showing they completed their required courses. The workers can't be reviewed if they haven't done the training. "Last year, I think we had all but two comply. That's a wow," Buckley said. Those who weren't trained "easily remedied the situation" by taking their required courses, she noted.

"Sometimes employees procrastinate and attend the last possible session, if the training is offered on multiple dates and times," Chastain said. "I saw a final notice that was sent by an HR professional regarding required training that included a threat that if the employee didn't attend this final one-hour session, they would have to be trained by her." The HR pro explained that she wasn't as familiar with the content, "so she suspected it would take her several hours to cover the same materials as would be covered in one hour by the expert trainer," Chastain said.

However, some threats to complete training can make matters worse, resulting in employees arriving at the training session with a negative mindset, Church cautioned. The instructor then "has to spend valuable time addressing and transforming this negativity, rather than focusing immediately on the content."


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