Why Mandatory Training is.... Never Mandatory

Most of us have received that all-familiar email. You know, the one with the subject line that starts with the word, "mandatory". It's usually highlighted, or in bold, or in UPPERCASE like this: MANDATORY TRAINING: .... I'm willing to bet that many people have an Outlook rule that automatically moves any mandatory messages to the famous "others" offline folder, where it is tried, judged and found guilty of interfering with daily practices. Well, in all of the many classes I have trained, I can tell you from experience that generally, there are 2 types of people who come to training (mandatory, or not):

1) Those that were told to go (or else). These usually come from a directive of some sort, or from HR or from their manager.

2) Those who choose to be there. These are people who have taken initiative to self-enroll in the class, or understand it's importance in their job.

Now, just to set the record straight, some training needs to be mandatory, whether for compliance, safety or protecting information, etc. The question herein, lies with the subject line, and more specifically, the word: Mandatory. This word has a magical and mysterious way of making you feel as if your head suddenly weighs heavier than your entire body.

Typical reactions from employees:

  • Oh no, not again. Another 4 hours (or more) of useless training that doesn't have anything to do with what I'm doing
  • I hope I can multi-task so I don't fall behind in my work
  • Oh great... I have a customer meeting that day and now have to re-arrange everything
  • Mandatory, pandatory. So what - I don't have to go


Is any training, or meeting really mandatory? What I mean here is that even if you have to go to the session, and you don't really want to be there, what good will it do? You'll probably bring down the energy of others who do want to be there to learn. It's just like giving in to a spouse or friend's choice of restaurant and then complaining the entire evening away at the quality of the food, drink, service, or whatever else you can think of. As far as mandatory training is concerned, hey, at least you will be able to:

  • Record your attendance
  • Satisfy the boss
  • Satisfy the company
  • Fail to learn anything (or very little)

If any of the above cases are true, you might want to think about how you choose to make the most of your time. Whether you decide to enter the training with a mindset that is going to complain about everything, (including the shape of the Instructor's nose), or simply try to make the most of it. Who is the real culprit here? It's not the Instructor, the boss, or the company...


Firstly, from the organizer's point of view, employees generally don't react well when they see the word, "Mandatory". It unfortunately sets off a negative interpretation because you are forcing people to be there. Sometimes, the training might be to "fix" some problem, or communicate staff or cost reductions. Therefore, there might be a "blame" factor imposed on employees who might then feel as if they are being punished. Unfortunately, when using this word, the learning loses half of its value even before you've started.

If you see employees regularly skipping mandatory training, then the message is simply not clear enough and needs to be reworded.

Ensure your message doesn't portray negative implications, such as, "we apologize for forcing you to attend this training". Or perhaps making sure that everyone sees the WIIFM (What's In It For Me) instead of the WTF (What's This For!). Make sure you back-up your reasoning for making it mandatory with a case study or research that shows how it will positively affect them.


If all else fails and you determine it's either a motivation problem, or a poor reaction to a "trigger", then it might be time to make Emotional Intelligence training... you guessed it: mandatory :). One of the EI competencies is Empathy that if improved, might even help employees understand that all learning is a gift. Once you've realized that, you'll know that whenever you receive a gift, often a simple "thank you" is more than enough.

If you have any other ideas, please feel free to share!!

With Appreciation,

Gab Ciminelli

Gabriele Ciminelli