When people hear “compliance training,” many envision dull, one-off trainings that are required to check-the-box rather than benefit the workers or work culture. Most organizations limit compliance training to legal and regulatory policies to satisfy state requirements, and as a result, overlook other much-needed learning and development (L&D) opportunities.

The need for compliance training goes beyond having to meet state and legal requirements. Compliance training can educate the company’s people on how to collectively create and maintain a safe and healthy work environment. This can ultimately lead to building a company culture that attracts job candidates and incentivizes employees to stay.

Compliance training can create an open dialogue on important topics that are critical to ensuring an ethical company culture. Sunny McCall, senior director of compliance training at TRACE, explains how it creates a basis for a conversation around important compliance issues. “Every training is a touchpoint. From required curriculum to refresher courses and ongoing communications — [compliance training] serves as an opportunity to reiterate ethical values … [and] is vital when it comes to creating open channels of communication around challenging topics,” McCall says. It can also give employees the platform to speak up when they identify an issue.

According to a Gartner survey, only 54% of employees report workplace misconduct. Most employees understand what workplace misconduct looks like but choose to keep quiet to avoid any backlash. So, unless learning leaders regularly create the opportunity for these discussions, the organization will only be as compliant as that check in the box.

In this article, we’ll evaluate five key compliance training programs and how they can help create a better company culture that promotes a psychologically safe and healthy work environment.

Compliance Training Programs

1.      Anti-harassment and discrimination.

Many employers may assume that harassment is an obvious behavior to avoid. Yet, in a survey, 79% of participants witnessed an incident of harassment or discrimination within the past five years. This includes 42% of respondents who reported witnessing an incident within the past year. Elizabeth Bille, senior vice president of workplace culture at EVERFI, shares that unfortunately, harassment and discrimination in the workplace is common. “Employees want to work in a safe place, so equipping employees with awareness of these kinds of situations, particularly around non obvious forms of harassment, is really critical.”

Bille further explains that historically, a lot of anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training has focused on obvious and cringey situations that everyone might agree the behavior is inappropriate. “But what training can also do, and really should do, is focus on the more nuanced, gray areas that employees may not realize are offensive or are causing harm.”

“Nuanced, gray areas” are situations, words and actions that many employees may not realize are hurtful to others. “Sometimes these statements or behaviors may even be well-intentioned by the speaker, but their impact can still be harmful,” Bille says. Her examples include:

  • Co-workers constantly telling an employee with a disability how “inspiring” they are for completing the same tasks as everyone else.
  • A manager delegating note taking to the only female employee even though that isn’t in the employee’s job description.
  • A colleague repeatedly touching another colleague on the hand or shoulder “for emphasis.”

Spreading awareness of these nuanced behaviors cannot only help raise awareness among learners, but also help them to stop and think about why those behaviors have a negative impact on others.

“Training programs shouldn’t just focus on the wrongdoer and victim but should incorporate learn-by-doing scenarios to empower colleagues to speak up and report bad behavior in the workplace,” says Harper Wells, chief compliance officer at Learning Pool. “Just as our workplaces have changed significantly over the last few years, so should our training,” Wells says.

This can be done through storytelling in an eLearning course and/or through peer discussion. The training can provide awareness of how not to participate in these behaviors, as well as how to prevent them. Bille shares that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has found that bystander intervention training is one of the most promising practices for preventing harassment and discrimination in the workplace and equipping employees with the tools to speak up in the moment.

2.      Code of conduct

Company culture is the shared set of values, beliefs, attitudes, behaviors and practices that characterize an organization. This is reflected in leadership and how employees interact with one another. When people join your organization, it’s important to communicate and demonstrate company values, mission, vision and goals from the beginning.

Code of conduct training educates employees on how to behave respectfully and ethically with one another and customers, which overall impacts employee morale and brand reputation. Wells shares that, “For many organizations, ethics and compliance training provides a structured opportunity to communicate organizational expectations on a variety of topics where values, rules and regulations matter.”

McCall shares that training topics can be injected into regular company updates, including newsletter and team meetings, as an L&D initiative. “At TRACE, we offer one-page flyers, training aids, postcards and shareable memes that can be easily incorporated into company touchpoints and newsletters as training,” McCall says. Training doesn’t always have to be a full-blown eLearning course — informal learning methods can help embed these values into your work culture.

3.      Cultural competency.

Cultural competency training cannot only improve the way employees interact with one another, but also with an organization’s customers and vendors. This is critical for small and large businesses alike since there are a variety of cultures all around us. However, globalization and the emergence of new technologies has shrunk our world — making it possible for organizations to interact globally. With this in mind, it’s important to teach employees how to be culturally competent.

Cultural competency training teaches an organization’s people cultural competence, which is the ability to effectively communicate and interact with people from diverse cultures and backgrounds different than our own with the appreciation for these cultural differences. This educates learners how to be aware of implicit bias and how our unconscious beliefs can affect how we perceive other cultures.

This training can be delivered through a blended learning experience that includes an eLearning course or a module video paired with a peer discussion or role-playing. “Effective compliance training must meet the learner where they are, offering a balanced presentation that caters to limited attention spans while providing visual stimulation to ensure engagement,” McCall says. “Leveraging real-life situations in training can also bolster clarity, relatability and [learning] stickiness.”

4.      Cybersecurity and data privacy.

According to a report by McAfee Enterprise and FireEye, “Cybercrime in a Pandemic World: The Impact of COVID-19,” 81% of organizations globally have experienced an increase in cyber threats. And according to a Security Intelligence report, the percentage of breaches increased by 41% in 2022. Email compromise attacks increased by 48% with reports of $11,395 incidents costing businesses a sum of $12.3 million.

“Every organization manages an array of issues from cyber threats to employee misconduct,” Wells says. “To ignore it is dangerous. Organizations [should] take action and demonstrate an appropriate response to its stakeholders.” This means that it’s up to the organization to teach its people how to respond to and identify cyber threats. “Training helps to acknowledge that issues can happen here and shows how the organization is responsive.”

5.      Workplace violence prevention.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, health care workers and nurses are at a far higher risk of workplace violence compared to most other professions. From 2016 to 2020, the CDC reports 207 deaths due to violence in the workplace in the health care and social assistance industry. Despite the greater concern in the health care sector, workplace violence is a prevalent issue.

“Data is showing that we’re seeing a surge of workplace violence, whether it’s employee versus employee or customers versus employees,” Bille says. “It’s really becoming quite a crisis in some industries at this point.”

On average, 1.3 million nonfatal violent crimes occur in the workplace annually. Workplace violence prevention training can train employees on what warning signs of someone becoming violent and how to deescalate the situation to keep themselves and others safe. Bille explains that it teaches employees how to not only prevent workplace violence, but also how to respond to an emergency if it does occur.

“Training is an incredibly critical component of helping prevent harm to employees and customers,” Bille shares. “For many organizations, it’s not advisable to wait until something happens to start thinking about violence prevention.”

Moving Forward

L&D plays a huge role in creating company culture and ensuring employees are aware of company values. By embedding compliance training into the company’s culture, you can ensure that everyone embodies the organization’s mission, vision, values and beliefs and that the workplace is a safe, equitable and healthy environment.