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4 Hard Truths About Ethics and Compliance Training

4 Hard Truths About Ethics and Compliance Training

by Nate Dvorak

Story Highlights

  • Most compliance training programs are not memorable or meaningful
  • Online compliance training is less effective than in-person or hybrid
  • Excellent ethics and compliance training requires evaluation and feedback

Most employees receive some kind of ethics and compliance training at work. Many of these training sessions are mandatory for legal reasons. Others, like those regarding workplace ethics, go beyond mere compliance to address the standards of behavior that an organization wants to uphold.

The problem is that much of compliance training is uninspiring and ultimately ineffective at educating and changing employee behavior. Gallup data suggest that simply "checking the box" on compliance training for employees doesn't work.

If corporate leaders want to get ethics and compliance initiatives right, they need to take a serious look at the effectiveness of their training. Here are a few hard truths Gallup has discovered about the effectiveness of compliance training.

1. Few employees say their compliance training was excellent.

Ethics and compliance initiatives cost organizations money, time and employee productivity. Moreover, many organizations hire ethics and compliance officers, internal auditors, and legal teams to ensure employees are working appropriately.

Ultimately, the goal of this investment is appropriate employee behavior in real-life business operations. Training employees to act the right way when it counts is essential to reaching this goal.

So, what are leaders getting for all this investment? The answer is: not much. Gallup data show that fewer than one in four employees (23%) who have participated in a compliance or ethics training session within the past 12 months would rate that training as "excellent." As we will see below, this means the majority of employees have training experiences that are uninspiring, unmemorable or irrelevant to their work.

2. Employees rate web-based training worse than in-person or hybrid training methods.

Most employees experience compliance training online -- either as completely web-based training or as part of a hybrid educational experience. Among those who have participated in compliance training within the previous year, 52% say their training or educational session was delivered digitally or web-based, and 25% say it was a combination of digital and in-person. Only 23% say their training was fully in-person.

However, when you look at the percentage of employees who rate their training as excellent, the digital training fares the worst -- only 17% rate their program as excellent. In-person and blended e-learning programs rate better, with significantly more employees rating their program as excellent (30% for in-person and 28% for blended).

3. Very few employees strongly agree that their training changed how they (or their coworkers) do their work.

The purpose of training is to influence behavior. But among employees who have participated in ethics and compliance training, only one in 10 strongly agree that they learned something that has changed how they do their work after participating in the program.

The majority of employees have training experiences that are uninspiring, unmemorable or irrelevant to their work.

Finally, in maybe the most telling response, only 11% of participants strongly agree that their coworkers apply what they learned in compliance training to their work every day. This means that nine out of 10 employees couldn't tell much of a difference between their workplace pre-training versus post-training.

4. Excellent training programs make a difference. Anything less has little benefit.

When employees rate their training as excellent (a 5 on a five-point scale), it means more than that they liked it or thought it was fun. Among employees who rate their program as excellent, 84% strongly agree that they know where to go to share a concern about unethical or dishonest behavior at work.

In contrast, those who rate their training as less than excellent do not feel as confident in reporting concerns about unethical behavior. Employees who rate their training as a 1, 2 or 3 are less likely than those who have not even participated in a compliance program to know where to go to share a concern about unethical behavior.

The story is similar when employees are asked whether they work in an environment where people feel they can speak up about unethical behavior. Among those who say their compliance training was excellent, 72% strongly agree that their organization creates an environment where people can speak up. But those who rate their training as a 1, 2 or 3 are on par with employees who haven't participated in any such training.

Leadership Takeaways for Ethics and Compliance Training

Gallup research suggests that ethics and compliance leaders need to adjust their initiatives in the following ways:

  • Evaluate the effectiveness of your programs. Employee feedback on training programs provides an important way to gauge their efficacy. It's worth doing short surveys immediately following a training, as well as several months afterward.
  • Complement web-based training with in-person activities or manager follow-up. Our data suggest that in-person training has an advantage. We recommend expanding training into the "real world." Managers can play an important role in connecting policies and values to daily habits.
  • Move away from box-checking. Aim for excellence. The biggest insight we uncovered is that employees who receive poor training are indistinguishable from those who have had no training at all. Bad training is a waste of time and money. Ethics and compliance officers need to be aiming for that "5" experience -- a compelling, inspiring, engaging educational program that employees can take back to their role and apply.

Create an organizational culture where compliance and engagement are valued.


Ryan Pendell contributed to this article.

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