The best two hours you’ll invest into employee training this year

By Mike Cook
For the Bellingham Business Journal

As employers and managers, we know we cannot expect the very best from our employees without from time to time investing in their training. How do you decide which training to invest in and when? This is a strategic question on the minds of all employers a good deal of the time, and rightly so.

Answering this question from the perspective of expense will likely keep your employees a step or so behind the expectations of your intended customers.

An outright failure to identify crucial training needs can be catastrophic to the business and your organization. To powerfully address the question of training the proper perspective needs to be investment; thinking of your employees as assets will keep this perspective top of mind. Assets you invest in and grow, resources (like human resources) you buy and use up. Yet, still there will always be the question of which training makes for the best investment.

This past week this question took on a whole new meaning for me. I attended a training session that I recommend you consider for your employees. Before I tell you about it, let me set the stage.

Sometimes the best training investment is obvious, like a payroll company teaching new employees the basics of how to deliver an accurate and on time payroll to clients. Other times the training investment may be less obviously valuable, as in when it involves investing directly in the employee as a person rather than as a delivery mechanism for services. This may be a more complicated question. Why, for example, does it make sense for an employer to invest in basic nutrition training during lunch hours for employees. Why? Because there is an epidemic of diabetes and obesity in our country and chances are good that both these issues contribute to lost time in any workplace and increased insurance claims, therefore risk ratings, that come right off the bottom line in a business.

Employees do not have work lives and personal lives that can be completely kept apart from each other.

They have one life, and they spend their time in a variety of places. You hope when they are away from work your employees spend their time in ways that do not negatively impact themselves or their performance, but you have virtually no control over that time. You can, however, make certain investments that provide some protection from employees’ unhealthy choices in how they spend their time away from work.

Drug testing is an example.

As employers, we feel justified in testing for drug use, where the legal system is on our side. But there are legal issues where often we fail our employees through lack of awareness.

Let me talk now about the training I attended. It is called Stewards of Children. The focus of the training is learning to identify the signs of child sexual abuse. Child sexual abuse is likely the most prevalent health problem children face, with the most serious array of consequences.

At the mere mention of child sexual abuse, you may become immediately uncomfortable, even angry or stop reading further.

Those reactions, while normal, are also why we continue to insufficiently address the issue of child sexual abuse on our country, where one in 10 children is sexually abused before their 18th birthday.

As an employer, you might be thinking, “Well, this is none of my business.”

Whether it is your business or not is not really your choice, just as with obesity or diabetes, child sexual abuse affects your business.

For some of us, maybe many of us, we have the topic of work in a box, separate and apart from the rest of life, in some cases we’ve even made it more important than the rest of life.

This attitude is not only silly, it is dangerous and it is us employers who’ve been in danger all along without realizing it.

We employ people who have been victims or live with victims of childhood sexual abuse. And because of our ignorance, we unknowingly assume the limitations they experience.

Try as we might, we cannot keep life out of our places of work, though to be sure we often act and think as though this should be the case. We even have a phrase, “This isn’t personal, it’s just business.” Honestly, was ever a more ridiculous statement made? If you affect a person’s income you affect the rest of their life. It’s all personal.

To find out how to bring the Stewards of Children Training to your workplace or where it will be offered locally, contact the Brigid Collins Family Support Center in either Whatcom or Skagit County.

Mike Cook lives in Anacortes. His columns appear on every other Tuesday. He teaches in the MBA program at Western Washington University and also runs a CEO peer advisory group in the Whatcom/Skagit area. He can be reached at

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