When I tell people what I do and I mention compliance training, the typical response is a groan, an eye roll, and a comment like "Oh my gosh, my company makes us sit through this boring training every year. It's horrible, outdated, and even laughable!"
Why is compliance important? Improving compliance in the workplace is no laughing matter. We are talking about keeping people safe from harassment, discrimination, bullying, and injuries.
Keeping your company compliant means ensuring employees have the right training on a variety of important compliance training topics, including things like safety, harassment policies, age and pregnancy discrimination, and so on. Compliance is mandated by federal, state, or local laws and regulations. Compliance training doesn't need to be painful or cringeworthy.
A company might have to deal with punitive measures for non-compliance when it comes to training, employee behavior, safety incidents, harassment claims, etc. Some organizations take this same punitive approach with employees. They assign the minimum required courses for compliance and hound managers and employees with due dates and emails to make sure they can check the box that the appropriate training is completed. In some cases, consequences are enforced if due dates or training is missed. This is a place to start, but it doesn't necessarily create a safe culture of compliance. Just because someone watches a video or sits through an hour-long class on sexual harassment doesn't necessarily equate to people changing their behavior.
Outside of mandatory training, what else can organizations do to create a culture of compliance year-round? What else can you do to encourage people to live your values, follow your safety procedures, and act in a respectful, and ethical manner?
1. Identify company values
Your company's values act as a road map, establishing culture, ideals, and goals. Without identifying those values, building a culture of compliance can be like baking a cake without a recipe—it doesn't make sense. Once you do identify your values (let's call them the ingredients of your compliance cake), you can begin to build a culture of compliance around them.
For example, having a core value of "integrity" or "do the right thing" can motivate compliant employee behavior. How do you act when no one else is around? Integrity is defined as the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. If this is a core value and your leaders live this value, employees can see the value of the compliance training being aligned with creating a safe and supportive work environment and company culture.
2. Reinforce training
Getting all employees to take their compliance training is the first step. In order to foster compliance year-round, employees need to pay attention to their behavior and their actions. Offering training reinforcement can help support compliance.
- Email reminder quizzes to reinforce learning points. With ej4, our reminders are sent two days, two weeks, two months, and four months after the training event.
- Add visual cues around the workplace as reminders. This might include safety posters, respectful workplace fliers in common areas, etc.
- Managers can review key topics in team meetings to strengthen the messages coming from the company.
- Allow self-directed learning so employees may revisit any training courses as needed.
3. Go beyond "anti" and teach "understand"
Having an "anti-" message can take you only so far. You need to teach your people how and why those behaviors take root. Telling people not to do something tends to be less effective when you don't give them some rationale behind it. Think about when you were a kid. Did your mom ever tell you "no" when you tried to jump into a swimming pool 30 seconds after scarfing down a hot dog? She probably explained to you that there was a good chance you'd get sick if you didn't take some time to let your food digest. You may not have liked that explanation, but at least it gave you some understanding.
For example, don't just teach about anti-harassment; teach the understanding behind why it happens. When you understand why harassment happens and how to identify it, you have a higher chance of preventing it from happening. Offer courses on understanding offenders, targets, warning signs, bystander training, and how to build a healthy culture.
4. Teach what you should do, not just what you shouldn't
Along the same lines as #3, organizations should focus not only on what employees shouldn't do but on what are the proper behaviors to adopt instead. Giving employees concrete actions to model and perform, as opposed to harping on what they aren't allowed to do, will get more buy-in and help them zero in on appropriate behavior more quickly.
- You should wear your safety harness so you don't fall to your death.
- You should use a ladder instead of your rolling desk chair to hang something.
- You should take your time when going down the stairs so you don't fall and break your neck.
- You should treat everyone like your mom is watching you.
- You should wait at least 30 minutes before getting in the pool after eating.
Notice that each of these could have been stated as a "do not" sentence. ("Do not forget your safety harness...") Phrased as a "should" sentence, they help provoke a mental image of what the proper behavior is, which makes it easier to remember and carry out.
5. Educate on the benefits of diversity
Go beyond training on how to avoid discrimination and the protected classes. More and more organizations are putting a high value on diversity, but they don't often communicate why diversity is a good thing. This means that people end up seeing the differences that diversity brings without understanding why those differences should be encouraged and celebrated.
Along with the benefits of diversity, you should encourage workplace empathy in your organization as well. While diversity feeds innovation and creative problem-solving, it can also create differences and misunderstandings among employees. These can be overcome only by social awareness gained through empathy.
Remember, diversity isn't just racial diversity. You should also think of diversity along the lines of gender, generation, religion, culture, and so on. Ideally, a deeper understanding and acceptance of our differences will eliminate any workplace discrimination, bullying, or harassment.
6. Eliminate the stigma around difficult topics
Some topics are just uncomfortable to discuss. Still, being uncomfortable for a few minutes is a small price to pay for bringing certain issues to light. There is often a fine line between acceptable, friendly behavior and unacceptable harassment. That line will not be clear to everyone, and so you need to make it explicit.
Think about it this way, let's say you get home from work and see you have lettuce stuck in your teeth. How long has that been there for?! Even though it may have been awkward, you kind of wish somebody would have said something to you, right?
You can make these conversations easier by removing the stigma around topics such as sexual harassment. Don't limit its discussion to small meetings behind closed doors. (Read more about how corporate culture impacts harassment in the workplace in our blog.) Talk about it openly. Reference items in the news that are relevant. The more you can talk about it openly, the more others will, too.
7. Offer both manager- and employee-specific training
The compliance training needed for managers often looks different from that needed by employees on the front line. If nothing else, both will have their own specific roles and responsibilities when it comes to compliance topics, and so each training has to be handled differently.
Managers are also in a unique position to potentially abuse their power. It is well worth sending them the message that certain kinds of behavior will not be tolerated, even from management.
8. Positively reinforce doing the right thing
Here's a simple story about positive reinforcement and compliance in the workplace. Most large buildings have both normal doors that swing outward and revolving doors. Revolving doors save on heating and cooling and are easier to keep secure, but it can be a trick to get people to use them every day. At one company, they had the security guards in the lobby hand out suckers to people who used the revolving doors! It's a small gesture, but it brought positive attention to the appropriate behavior.
Now imagine: How could you reinforce the behavior of someone who does not let a stranger in without a badge into the office? Or someone who wears their safety harness appropriately? Or who adopts your company wellness plan?
9. Don't just check the box
Again, compliance is so much more than just "checking the box." If you really want to create a compliance culture, you're going to have to get involved and get your hands dirty.
Here's one difference between a "checkbox" culture and a compliance culture: the conversation. In a checkbox culture, the conversations around compliance in the workplace are very one-sided. Flip the script and make these actual discussions. Ask questions to find out what is actually going on in the workplace. Let people share what they are experiencing. It starts by changing the mindset from "checking the box" to one of valuing and protecting employees. If you look at compliance training as a way to foster that kind of environment, rather than a tedious requirement, you're promoting a more positive culture and approach to training.
When you have more discussions, you'll notice that not everyone is comfortable doing this (see point #6 above). Make note of this, but keep going. Without difficult conversations, the real work never gets done.
10. Make it enjoyable
Yes, most compliance topics are pretty serious topics... but you can still make them fun. People dread compliance training because they feel like they're being scolded the entire time, so you need to find ways to be creative and positive. One way to do this is to celebrate certain "awareness" days and use those celebrations to start important conversations. Here are a few worth noting:
- National Burn Awareness Week (first week of February)
- Black History Month (February)
- Ladder Safety Month (March)
- National Work Zone Awareness Week (April)
- National Electrical Safety Month (May)
- LGBTQ+ Pride Month (June)
- Disability Employment Awareness Month (October)
Finally, realize that you are not alone in this. A culture will not change overnight, but you can start the process of change by sharing these ideas with other influencers at your company.
Try putting some of these changes in place now. Then your people will be much more receptive to your compliance training going forward.
For quality compliance training content, feel free to preview some of the easily digestible courses in our compliance video library. Some of the courses relevant to the steps in this article include:
- Mission, Vision, Values series: Values
- Building Accountability series: Taking Ownership
- Introduction to Understanding Harassment
- Working Well with Everyone series: Diversity = Greatness
- Anti-Harassment series: Anti-Harassment for Managers
You can view all of these courses by signing up for a full-featured, full-library free trial of our Thinkzoom LMS.
- Why Compliance Training is More Than a Checkbox
- Regulatory Compliance Training: How to Get Started
- How is Compliance Training Different from Other Training?
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on June 6, 2019, and has been updated for freshness and comprehensiveness.