5 min read

Learning Culture or Cancel Culture: You Decide

By Kathy Irish on Nov 17, 2020 2:00:00 PM

ej4 Blog - Learning Culture or Cancel Culture: You Decide

When an employee acts in a way that goes against your company’s values, the results can be costly. With the prevalence of mobile phone viral videos, and access to social media, companies around the world have found themselves the victims of being “cancelled”. A learning culture, as well as the type of employee training you offer, can create a corporate environment that may inoculate your company against the behaviors that would result in an organization being examined under the microscope of cancel culture.

How Does Cancel Culture Work?

According to a recent article from BBC News, cancel culture first started as internet slang that meant, “I’m done with you”, but as it spread through social media it became a rallying cry for a protest or boycott of a person or business. This can happen when a company or employee breaks social norms that result in widespread outrage.

Cancel Culture Landmines

In a world where we’re all connected by the internet, one misstep can send your company into a tailspin. We see calls for boycotts when companies or employees exhibit:

  • Discrimination
  • Hostile work environments
  • Cybersecurity breaches


A recent and costly example happened at coffee giant Starbucks, when an employee called the police on two Black customers who were waiting for a third person to arrive for a meeting prior to ordering. In an effort at damage control the chain closed all locations for racial bias training, costing them an estimated $10 million.

Hostile Work Environment

Ellen DeGeneres has built her brand on the motto “be kind,” but former employees allege the workplace that bears her name is anything but kind. Accusations of racist “microaggressions'' against Black employees, lack of support during the coronavirus pandemic and, rumors of DeGeneres herself being cold and unfriendly may have cost her viewers. Time will tell the financial impact this could have on her company.


Breaches in cybersecurity, whether a hacker accesses company or customer data, erodes trust and leads to damage to an organization’s reputation. In a recent survey, one in four business leaders said their firm was the victim of a “cyber event”, and many admitted that they hadn’t subscribed to basic prevention strategies such as cybersecurity awareness training! The Twitter breach of 2020 showed the biggest vulnerability to companies is often its own employees. Cybersecurity training is more important as more and more employees work from remote locations. 

In addition to protecting against allegations of discrimination, harassment, and lax cybersecurity, lack of training in areas such as sales, customer service, and soft skills cost companies thousands of dollars every year, while ongoing training has impressive ROI. Research indicates that for every dollar invested in training companies receive $4.53 in return – that’s a whopping 353% return on investment. Where else can you get that ROI?

Read more in our eBook: What are the Costs of Not Training?

What Defines a Learning Culture?

When organizations pay attention to employee development, they create a learning culture and their companies do better. A study by Bersin by Deloitte found that companies that nurture employees through training tend to be market leaders. It’s important to note that creating a learning culture needs to be tailored to the organization and their employees.

Not A One Size Fits All Approach

Organizations that are aware of the type of learning culture they have tend to make better policy decisions and experience less frustration around training and development. The four types of learning cultures are:

  • Traditional: Practical and seek to make employees more productive in their roles. Learning is largely management driven and follows traditional training methods such as classroom lectures, and job shadowing.
  • Immersive: Broader focus on the company as a whole, as well as the employees role in the organization. Learning is largely management driven and employs classroom lectures, company tours, and job shadowing.
  • Pioneering: Encourages employee growth through self-paced or self-directed learning. Pioneering environments are often found in smaller companies or startups that rely on employees to keep up with the fast pace of innovation in order to drive growth.  
  • Free-Form: Learning follows a broad range of skills, some not even required for the job, think yoga or mindfulness, to help employees maintain a “work-life balance.” Traditional training for job requirements may take place, while other learning opportunities might come from employees themselves either formally or informally.

Once you’ve determined the learning culture that reflects your organizations needs and values, you need to communicate that clearly with employees. Failure to do so can cause frustration, which may drive employees to find a new job. Once an organization has identified its learning culture, it can capitalize on the best ways to use technology to reach its training and education goals. You can learn more in our whitepaper: The Four Types of Learning Cultures: What Learning Culture “Fit” Means for Training, Development, and Engagement. 

Inoculation From Cancel Culture

A proactive approach to training means investing in employees not just during the onboarding process, but over time. It has a major impact on morale, and allows you to stay ahead of the curve as cultural norms shift.

Compliance training, or training employees about laws, regulations, and company policies and behavior in the workplace, is one of the most important areas an organization can focus on to protect themselves against cancel culture. One sobering statistic is that workplace bullying, as shown described at The Ellen DeGeneres Show, is costing U.S. businesses up to $360 billion annually in lost productivity, absenteeism, and turnover.

Learn more about the importance of compliance training and how it can protect your organization in our whitepaper: Why Compliance Training is More Than a Checkbox

2020 changed many things about our workplaces. Many organizations are talking about staying virtual into 2021, and beyond. It’s more important than ever to make sure your organization offers training that’s easily accessible, engaging, and proactive to protect you against the threat of cancel culture.

Additional Resources


Kathy Irish

Written by Kathy Irish

Kathy joined ej4 in 2007 as our first Instructional Designer. She has over 15 years’ experience in Human Resource Management, Training and Organizational Development. In addition to managing and planning ej4’s yearly new content development, Kathy also oversees all the production on updates (both legal and style-wise) to current off-the-shelf content.

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