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11 Ways to Motivate Employees to Prioritize Training

Simple steps to encourage employees to become more enthusiastic about training

Motivation.

Like a seesaw. Like the waves of the ocean. Up and down,

Okay, terrible examples, but you know where I’m going with this. Motivation is never constant. One day you’re motivated to hit the gym hard or finish off that assignment you’ve been telling yourself to finish since last year.

And then the very next day, you just aren’t keen to do anything at all. That assignment? I’ll do it next week. Gym? Maybe tomorrow. Finally going to the post office to post those postcards you promised your friends? How about no.

These are all trivial examples, but we can definitely all relate to them. Unless you’re a newly-engineered AI-powered super human designed to stay 100% motivated all the time. But I somehow don’t think we’ve reached that point in tech (yet…).

In the Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain’s narrator says,

Tom … had discovered a great law of human action … namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain. If he had been a great and wise philosopher … he would now have comprehended that Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.

Now, you may be wondering how this relates to training, right? So let’s get to it.

group of young professionals looking at a computer screen

Extrinsic vs Intrinsic Motivation and Why It Matters

One of the biggest challenges Learning and Development professionals face – and indeed have always faced – is motivating employees to find time for training.

It is an intrinsic part of human nature to be curious, active, to initiate thought and behavior, to make meaning from experience, and to be effective in doing the things we value. These are the primary sources of motivation, and it is therefore crucial that training programs are designed around both extrinsic and intrinsic factors that motivate us.

Like the quote from Tom Sawyer says, people like to be challenged. They want to prove themselves capable of doing difficult tasks. But, sometimes, they also want to have fun doing so.

Below, I discuss 11 points that can help you, as either a training facilitator, HR manager, or L&D professional, motivate employees to attend – and make time for – training.

1. Good Feeling

One of the main themes in economics is the idea that incentives, or rewards, encourage effort and performance. There is evidence to back it up. To elaborate, contingent rewards (or extrinsic motivation) serve as positive reinforcers for the desired behavior.

As an L&D professional, it’s important that you offer incentives or rewards to employees for attending a training program.

A humorous, but also super relatable example:

A good friend of mine often has to go for training. I asked her what was a motivating factor for her and her colleagues to attend. Can you guess what her answer was?

Food. Yes. Food.

Now aside from the whole ‘Maslow’s hierarchy’ fulfilling one’s basic needs explanation, having food – make that food on Gordon Ramsay level – is an example of extrinsic motivation.

Employees will attend training if there is some sort of incentive involved, be that something as basic as food or a bit more substantial, such as a monetary or vacation bonus at the end of the year.

Also, concerning the use of rewards, Carol Anderson offers some good advice: ‘Focus your rewards program on courses that will drive the most ROI for your organization … Measure the impact of trainings, and make the ones that actually improve performance stand out. Do you have a new product launching soon that the sales team needs to better understand? That new product training should become a target for a compelling employee incentive or reward.’

2. But WAIT A MINUTE

While offering incentives may seem motivational at face value, they can actually, to an extent, hinder the value or outcome of the training. Why? Because employees will then only focus on ending the training. I.e. ‘I know that if I attend this training, then I’ll get a monetary bonus at the end of the year. So just get it over and done with.’ Their focus will then become less on benefiting from the training itself but more on earning the incentive.

Does this mean that you shouldn’t offer incentives? No, not at all! People like to be rewarded. But you should use incentives with caution. And this is where intrinsic motivation (doing something because it’s personally rewarding) comes into play.  

True passion, sense of fulfillment, and purpose are the factors that trigger action and lead to commitment. Incentives can sometimes delay the onset of intrínsic motivation. External rewards generate a fake sense of purpose that eliminates the need for people to discover the real reasons that lead them to action.

According to Baron and Kreps, authors of Strategic Human Resources: Frameworks for General Managers,

‘There is no doubt that the benefits of [piece-rate systems or pay-for-performance incentive devices] can be considerably compromised when the systems undermine workers’ intrinsic motivation.’

Therefore, while I personally believe that extrinsic factors should form a part of training, it is more important to appeal to the intrinsic motivation of employees.

Employees want to be challenged. They want to feel empowered, capable, useful, intelligent. They want to feel as though they are achieving something. In a previous blog on learning and development about bridging the learning-doing gap, I discussed the ego and appealing to the ‘what’s in it for me’. Thus, when an employee’s feelings of worth, competence, and self-determination are enhanced during a training program, their intrinsic motivation will increase.

That’s why you should design training programs that appeal to an employee’s intrinsic motivation, such as:

  • Explain to employees WHY this training program will benefit them both professionally and personally.
  • Teach them valuable skills that will help them feel empowered and more confident in what they do.
  • Boost their self-esteem.
  • And even if the training is compulsory, you can motivate the employees further by praising them throughout the training and offering positive feedback.

three young professionals working in an office

3. Work Hard, Play Harder

And here we have a solid example of where both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation come into play (excuse the pun). Gamification. It’s an inescapable word in the field of L&D, and for very good reason.

People are motivated by competition and, as already mentioned, rewards. By using gamification techniques during training, you will be appealing to the competitive side of employees. People like to win, so if some sort of reward is involved during training, employees are more likely to invest in the program because they’ll be motivated extrinsically (reward) and intrinsically (taking on a challenge, feeling empowered, the desire to feel capable and competent).

An interesting point: Gamification is only 25% technology – the 75% comes down to psychology. And if you need some more convincing stats on the benefits of gamification, here are some put together by the team at Review 42: 

  • 79% of employees claim they have gained motivation and purpose at the workplace because of gamified activities.
  • 90% of employees feel more productive when using gamification.
  • 72% of employees claim gamification inspires them to work harder.

4. Get Busy

Referring back to my friend who is motivated by food, she also told me about an app that she’s seen being used in training programs by facilitators and presenters. The app in question uses real-time surveys to engage employees. For example, the facilitator can ask a question like, ‘Do you understand the purpose of today’s workshop?’ and the audience will then vote.

The app is designed to get the audience more involved and motivated by allowing them to contribute in real time. It helps them engage with the content, and makes them feel empowered because their feedback is acknowledged and valued.

Introducing a social element into training is always useful, as it encourages employees to take responsibility for their own personal learning. Using apps fosters communication and collaboration between employees and the facilitator and, by extension, enhances the company culture as employees feel as though are part of a group working towards similar goals.

5. Are You Ready For It?

When you hear the word ‘mandatory’, I’m sure, like me, you immediately roll your eyes and go ‘ughhhh’. I mean, why should we be forced to do something? I’m an adult dammit!

But just because some training programs are mandatory, it doesn’t necessarily mean that employees now have cause to be automatically disinterested. In fact, mandatory can be associated with importance, so leverage this.

Tell employees that this training is important for THEM because it will help THEM with x,y,z etc. Sometimes training is needed but it isn’t necessarily valued. So if something is mandatory, then you need to demonstrate to employees what valuable skills they’ll come away with at the end of the course.

Also, it’s important to do a little prep beforehand. Find out what employees like and don’t like regarding training courses, or how they’d prefer to receive the training.

Research shows that an important precursor to participation in a training program is when employees expect to gain valued benefits from training. In other words, if employees are made aware beforehand of the benefits and outcomes of a program, they’ll be more motivated to attend. This comes down to a pre-motivational type known as valence-instrumentality-expectancy beliefs. In way simpler terms, this just means that by putting effort into attending training, employees expect to gain skills, knowledge, and ability that leads to outcomes of value.

6. Long Live

Strive to create and encourage a culture of learning  in the workplace. Not to get cheesy here, but someone once wrote,

‘Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow’.

The message is plain and simple: promote an environment where employees are encouraged to learn as much as possible in whatever manner possible (and not just when training occurs), as this will lead to growth, be that in terms of skill-development, personal or professional development, innovation, and an improvement of the company’s bottom line.

7. Just Give Me A Reason

Once again, this comes down to the, ‘what’s in it for me?’. A big motivating factor is career advancement. If there are aspects to the training that will help with either personal and/or professional development, then employees will be able to understand the benefits of the training and will have goals to work towards.

Also, if companies invest in employee training, it tends to show that they value their employees and their development, which, of course, is a great motivational factor.

The biggest investment organizations can make is in its employees. Research by Gallup indicates that disengaged employees cost $450 to $550 billion in lost productivity each year due to poor performance, disengagement, and absenteeism.

One of the biggest reasons employees choose to leave an organization is because they feel that they’re not receiving enough opportunity to learn and develop.

In the words of Brigette Hyacinth, author of The Future of Leadership: Rise of Automation, Robotics and Artificial Intelligence, ‘Employees can interpret an employer’s unwillingness to invest in training as a disregard for their professional development.’

Make employees feel valued. Show them that the organization is interested in them, their goals, and development.

8. Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

We’ve all heard the terribly cliche adage that great things happen when you step out of your comfort zone. But it’s terribly cliche for a reason. Cross-training, for example, helps engage employees by allowing them to adventure into a new zone of expertise.  

Design courses FOR the employee not just for the company. Design programs that will enable employees to GROW personally and professionally by challenging them and teaching them essential skills from other areas which the employees are not familiar with.

CEO of AT&T, Randall Stephenson, needs to retrain 280,000 employees so that they can either improve their coding skills or learn new ones. He needs to retrain them if the company is to survive among the giants like Google, Amazon, and Verizon.

Stephenson has come up with a corporate education program to help employees modernize their skills for the modern workplace. But employees have to take these classes on their own time and even pay for some of them out of their own pocket.

However, Stephenson believes that the choice is easy:

Learn new skills or find your career choices are very limited.

So, key takeaway here: Employees need to learn new skills consistently, especially now more than ever. And if they are given challenging and enriching courses where they’ll have the chance to move beyond their comfort zones, they’ll be motivated because they know that the knowledge and skills they’ll be gaining will be invaluable.

a team putting their hands in a circle

9. We’re All In This Together

Incorporate teamwork in training where employees can work together to solve problems and come up with solutions. This, once again, makes learning more hands-on, interactive, and fun.

Moreover, having big groups attending a training session can be overwhelming for a variety of reasons.

When I think back to my university days when I would attend a lecture (with, say, 200 students in the room) and then a tutorial (with only 20 students), I would benefit more, quite obviously, from the tutorials. The tutorials were more personal and interactive, and I wasn’t distracted by other students talking around me (or by playing games *cough* Angry Birds *cough* on my phone because I lost track of what the lecturer was saying).

So for training programs, if you can, develop teams or sessions that only include four or five people and implement small group activities and discussions. This empowers the employees to take a more active role in their training, which leads to higher engagement and knowledge retention.

10. Let’s Get It Started

Get employees hyped about training!! Encourage them to attend. Think of ways you can motivate them. Have a mini-competition for team members. Encourage senior employees to help new employees to strengthen the bond within the team. Use personal reminders. Take photos of the food that will be on display. Show some inspirational video about learning and growth that makes people cry. Promise that cats will be in attendance. Offer trips to Disneyland if employees attend. You know, that sort of thing ;).

11. Just Like Fire

A motivated and satisfied employee will, naturally, have a positive influence on other employees. And remember my point about developing a culture of learning? (Only correct answer here would be yes).

Well, if there’s a strong culture of learning in the workplace, then employees will be motivated to create, innovate, and also inspire others to do the same.

You know, the whole fuel to the fire idea. Employees who constantly develop their skills and feel confident in what they do will feel empowered, and I don’t about you, but when I feel empowered or confident about something, I definitely feel motivated to do more.

Quick quiz! Did you notice something about the numbered titles in the list? Yes? Good! They are the names of songs! Some might be obvious, but without Googling, who sings them? (Gamification for the win!)

two coworkers sitting in a modern office setting

Motivation for Training: A Lucrative Investment

When it comes to developing and implementing training programs, you don’t just want attendance, you want motivation. Sure, you can make training compulsory, which will up the attendance, but it’s the motivation that really counts – without the motivation, your employees aren’t going to learn anything and your investment in the training is wasted. And considering that the average American company spends about $1200 per employee on training, companies simply cannot afford to have demotivated employees.

With the constant development of new tech being introduced in the workplace coupled with a highly competitive market, you need to constantly teach and remind employees that relevant training, no matter how often it occurs and if its mandatory or not, equates to improved productivity, skills, professionalism, and profitability.

Alright, let me end this and leave you with this quote from one of the G.O.A.T. (know what that stands for? If not, try guess without Google ;)), Richard Branson:

‘Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.’

Motivating employees isn’t always the easiest task, but it can be done! If you are interested in learning more about motivating employees and providing a great employee experience at your organization, check out the replay of our webinar with employee experience expert Gethin Nadin.

Register for our Employee Experience 101 Webinar

Written by Tracey Ruff

Tracey is a Marketing and Content Specialist at Userlane. She is passionate about writing and social media (Instagram in particular) and is keen to start her own vlog. She has a Master of Arts degree in English Literature and has plans to pursue her PhD in the near future. Currently writing about Learning and Development and User Onboarding, Tracey is excited about how the tech industry - especially relating to SaaS products - is evolving. She also loves living and working in Germany (and may or may not be slightly obsessed with Taylor Swift and cats).

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