You spend a great deal of time, money, and effort designing L&D content. You roll out modules and courses to help employees upskill and move forward in their careers, as well as to become more efficient and effective in their current roles. So, why do so many employees resist learning and development?

Common Reasons Employees Resist Learning and Development

It’s unfortunate, but this is not an uncommon scenario. Many organizations expend significant resources to create L&D materials, but then find themselves dealing with strong resistance from employees. The truth is that there are as many reasons for employees to resist learning and development as there are L&D initiatives out there. However, there are some reasons that occur more commonly across the board, and we’ll address those below.

It’s about Control

One reason that employees might resist learning and development, despite the fact that it is designed to improve their performance, is that they feel it is tied to a loss of control. This is particularly common with employees who are in mid-career and are required to take additional training. These employees often feel that they are being “forced” to learn new things for no good reason, or being required to do something that they do not want to do. In many cases, this is built on the assumption that their existing knowledge is more than sufficient – after all, it has gotten them this far, so how wrong could it be? When employees fear a loss of control over their own success, they will resist training.

It’s about Relevance

A perceived lack of relevance can cause resistance in your learners. This ties into the tip above, but it can occur in any work at any stage in their career. Simply put, if your learners cannot see how the training is relevant to their needs now or in the future, they will perceive it as a waste of time at best. At worst, they may see it as an assault on their control over their own lives and careers.

To get around this issue, it’s important to help your employees connect the dots and see how the training benefits them now and in the future. This could be something as simple as communicating new industry rules or government regulations, or it could require diving deeper. Whatever the case, it is the leader’s responsibility to ensure that employees understand the relevance and value of the training.

They’re Not Deeply Engaged

Once upon a time, most people had just one or two employers during their lives. They would find a great company, work with them for decades, and then retire (usually with a nice pension). Those days are long gone. Employee/employer loyalty is no longer a force in the market. To be fair, the reverse is also true, and many employers feel that employees are expendable and easily replaced. The result of this situation is an unfortunate stance that often leaves employees disengaged and resistant to training and development. After all, if they’re just biding their time until something better comes along, why should they invest the mental and emotional resources in training?

Ultimately, this comes down to engagement – deeply engaged employees find their positions much more rewarding and are much less likely to jump ship after a better salary or another benefit. For employers, the most important thing here is to improve engagement, as deeply engaged employees are better able to see the value of and need for additional training. A knock-on benefit here is that high-quality, effective training can also make employees more engaged and more likely to stay, so it creates a positive feedback loop.

It’s about Fear of Change

Change can be painful and difficult. It’s only natural for employees to not just dislike it, but to actively avoid change when possible. Training is an area where employees feel a loss of control over their time and even their careers, so change is particularly worrying here. For employees who fear change, the positives of the training should be stressed. Once more, employers can connect the dots and help employees see the positive aspects of training, not just for the company, but for the employee. This can go a long way toward reducing fear and anxiety, which in turn reduces resistance to learning and development.

It’s about Their Generation

Today’s workplace has one of the most diverse mixes of generations ever. Baby Boomers rub elbows with both Gen Xers and Millennials. Generation Z is even getting into the mix. Each generation approaches learning and development differently. Baby Boomers are more likely to be resistant to training due to many different factors. Gen Xers can also be resistant, but are more likely to just “go along to get along”. Millennials and Generation Z workers are the least likely to resist training, simply because people within these generations see great value in personal and professional development.

A Negative Aspect

In some cases, training may carry with it a negative connotation or even the feeling that it is somehow a punishment. Employees will actively resist experiences they perceive as negative or punitive. Overcoming this challenge can be difficult, and may require a deep dive into your corporate culture to address underlying biases regarding training. However, with time, strategy, and intentionality, you can change the perception. Once that shift occurs, resistance to training will evaporate and your team will be able to see the value of and need for training.

The Need to Measure Effectiveness

One of the primary reasons for employees to resist training is if it is not effective. Low-quality, unengaging, or redundant training does not deliver a particularly good learner experience and can leave your employees less than enthused about the experience. By measuring the effectiveness of your training and using a modern, cloud-based learning management system to track employee progress, time spent on modules, and other metrics, it is possible to identify problems, build better content, and create a learner experience that drives engagement rather than resistance.