Workplace Solutions Ergonomics Training

Engaging employees in training

What is the best way to achieve a higher level of employee engagement in our safety and health training sessions?

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Responding is Peter Guske, licensed physical therapist and president of The Back Saver System, Sanford, FL.

Facilitating employee engagement in a training session starts before the first employee walks into the training room. You might not think that something as seemingly innocuous as the arrangement of the chairs could have such a profound effect on the mood, receptiveness, attention span and interest level of your attendees, but this nuance – because it appears so unimportant – is missed by most safety trainers, and most often not even given a passing thought.

Seating arranged in simple rows or a haphazard pattern conveys not only disinterest, but also a lack of buy-in on the part of the trainer. Additionally, it allows attendees to feel as though they have the OK to rearrange seating when they arrive. I often have seen attendees in training classes totally rearrange chairs, albeit sometimes in a slow and subtle manner, throughout a training session. By the time attendees stand up at break time, it’s easy to see by the new position of the chairs that the seating arrangement now bears no resemblance to its original position. Oftentimes, attendees rearrange chairs to form small groups or cliques. Not only does this foster disinterest in the session, it also conveys to the rest of the group that the trainer has OK’d a lackadaisical attitude. More importantly, this creates a feeling of separation and non-cohesion that spreads rapidly throughout a group. Although subtle to the point of being almost imperceptible, these emotions are powerful and will greatly affect engagement, or lack thereof, in the training session.

Arrive early to the training room and arrange the chairs in parallel rows, facing the presenter, but with a wide center aisle. Angle the chairs inward about 30 degrees in the direction toward the center aisle, resembling a chevron pattern. This is the only arrangement in which all the following are simultaneously accomplished for a relatively large group:

  1. All attendees easily can see the trainer/presenter.
  2. Attendees can see each other.
  3. Neck strain is minimized or eliminated. This also fosters camaraderie, cohesiveness and team spirit among the group, which greatly improves learning.

I want to focus on No. 2. This is one of the most important items regarding seating arrangement. We all are programmed to respond vigorously, although usually quietly and most often subconsciously, to the smallest changes in a trainer’s movements, body language, facial expressions and tone. However, even more so, we intensely (and genetically) are programmed to respond to other attendees. If we see in other attendees indications of approval, agreement, amusement or favorability extended toward the presenter, we will respond in kind. Conversely, if we observe that other attendees are reacting negatively or in a disinterested manner toward the trainer, we also will follow this cue. Be it negative or positive, the conscious and subconscious impulse to follow the behavior patterns of others in a group is extraordinarily influential and will virtually always rule the day.

Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

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