The Work Environment and Training Effectiveness:

An Overlooked Element in 

Human Resource Management Instruction

by David E. Ripley

a peer-reviewed article

David E. Ripley  is a Senior Lecturer in HRM in the Department of Management, The University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand. 




This article suggests that a weakness in introductory-level HRM instruction related to training programs is a lack of significant focus on work environment factors in the design and implementation of training. The impact of work environment factors on employee behaviour -- and training transfer -- has been well documented in the literature and is highly relevant to practice.  However, an examination of eleven best-selling human resource management texts reveals that the impact of work environment factors is generally not taken into account in discussions of how training programs should be designed and implemented.This is significant because the required course work for many management majors is such that they will take only one HRM course in completing their degree.  These graduates will be the managers of tomorrow who will be shaping work environments. As such, they need to be aware of the importance of the role of the work environment for effective training of their employees. The article concludes with suggestions for research and practice.  

American spelling is not used in this article.


A review of eleven best-selling introductory HRM textbooks from Australia, New Zealand , and the United States indicates that, generally, there is a heavy focus on individual factors and a lack of significant emphasis on the importance of work environment factors in effective training.  Employee behaviour -- including training transfer -- occurs in the context of the work environment and it is suggested in this article that context cannot be ignored. To be effective, training must result in behaviour change in that work environment. 

Determinants of Employee Behaviour and their Relation to Training

          A major aim of organisation-sponsored training is normally the enhancement of employee behaviours that will lead to improved individual and/or organisational performance.  As shown in figure 1, both individual factors and work environment factors determine employee behaviors and resultant work outcomes. The work environment can be a positive or negative mediating force for behaviors resulting in training transfer.   

Figure 1

 The Relationship of Work Environment and Individual Factors, Job-Relevant Behaviour, Work Outcomes, and Training


          Carson , Cardy, and Dobbins (1991) indicated the work environment impacts individual behaviours on the job as well as directly impacting work outcomes.  Gilbert's (1996) Behaviour Engineering Model indicates that both work environment factors and individual factors impact performance, and Gilbert has noted that performance is a function of both behaviours and accomplishments -- that behaviours alone are not performance.  A familiar perspective of individual performance indicates that performance flows directly from employee behaviours and is expressed as Performance = f (ability X motivation), indicating that employee behaviours are a function of employee motivation and ability (Hellriegal, Slocum, and Woodman, 1995; Ivancevich & Matteson, 1987).  This approach only indirectly references the work environment, in that the work environment might, for example, influence motivation.  Thompson (1993) advocated expanding the individual performance formula to be expressed Performance = f (skill + effort) X (efficacy of system being used), a more direct reference to the work environment, and suggested that to improve performance with the least investment of resources, the investment should be in the system.  Binning & Barrett (1989) and Smith (1976) conceptualised that there are two domains to performance, job-relevant behaviours, and work outcomes, similar to Gilbert's position.  Noe (1986) hypothesised that Trainability = f (Ability, Motivation, Work Environment Perceptions), a position that bears directly on our topic.  Other authors (Bernardin, 1989; Blumberg & Pringle, 1982; Olson & Borman, 1989; and Peters, O'Connor, & Eulberg, 1985) have also recognized that work environment factors can influence employee behaviour. 

The importance of the interaction of employees with their work environment has been known for many years. Lewin's Field Theory explored this in the early 1940s. Lewin (1997, orig. 1943) expressed the field theory equation as Bt = F(St).  That is, behaviour at a point in time is a function of the situation at that time, where S includes both the person and his or her psychological environment.  Today we see B = f (p,e), indicating that behaviour is a function of the person interacting with the environment.  If we accept the basic field theory concept, the implication is that employee job-related behaviours do not occur in a vacuum, but in a specific and unique work environment, which impacts behaviours in that work environment.  I suggest that those behaviours are influenced by the degree to which employees desire to, or are able to, implement what they learned during training.  If support for the implementation of training is not present in the work environment, employee behaviour will be affected in terms of employees' ability or willingness to implement the training, with an attendant impact on training transfer and performance.  It follows that the work environment should be taken into account in the design and implementation of training.  But is this what we teach in our HRM classes?      

HRM Classes and Training Content

As discussed further in the following section, I believe that, from a training design and implementation standpoint, the importance of work environment factors is not adequately stressed in the majority of the best-selling introductory HRM textbooks in Australia, New Zealand, or the United States. I acknowledge that the content I believe is missing in HRM texts is sometimes discussed in journals such as the Academy of Human Resource Development Quarterly, Performance Improvement Quarterly, and Human Resource Development International. Likewise, that content may be taught in specialised (usually graduate) Human Resource Development or Instructional and Performance Technology programmes. These specialised courses often do use texts (for example, Noe, 2001) that place significant emphasis on the role of the work environment in training effectiveness. 

However, I maintain that the average business undergraduate (and future manager) may never see those journals or the texts used in the specialized courses, so the fact that this content is missing from the treatment of training found in a typical introductory HRM undergraduate course text is significant.  This text may be a student's only exposure to training issues prior to his or her entering the work force. To test this proposition, I visited the web sites of top-ranked business schools and looked at the course work required of management majors. I recognise that the mere mention of "top-ranked" schools will cause gnashing of teeth for some, and I acknowledge that my sources (Asia Week, Business Week, and US News and World Report) are (no doubt properly) criticised by many. (See for more discussion on rankings.) Nonetheless, I pressed on.

In Australia, the web sites of the Australian National University,the University of Melbourne, and the University of New South Wales were examined. In New Zealand, the sites of the University of Auckland and the University of Otago were examined. In the United States, the sites of Wharton (University of Pennsylvania ), the University of Michigan, Cornell University, the University of Virginia, Indiana University, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Texas were examined. Usually, it was found that one HRM or OB course was required at the undergraduate level of a non-HRM major. Highly relevant courses -- such as Workplace Training at the University of New South Wales and Training and Development in the Industrial and Labour Relations (ILR) School at Cornell -- were restricted to HRM and ILR majors respectively. 

HRM Texts and Training Content

The eleven texts shown below, identified by personal correspondence with publishers' representatives, were examined. These were considered to be representative of current teaching of the HRM survey courses mentioned above which are general in nature. I hasten to acknowledge the significant contributions made by the authors of all these texts, and emphasise that I focused on a very limited part of their works. The books were:

1.      Bohlander, Snell, & Sherman (2001), Managing Human Resources (12th ed.)

2.      De Cenzo & Robbins (1999), Human Resource Management (6th ed.)

3.      Dessler (2000), Human Resource Management (North American version) (8th ed.)

4.      Dessler, Lloyd-Walker, & Williams (1999), Human Resource Management (Australian & New Zealand)

5.      Gómez-Mejía, Balkin, & Cardy (2001), Managing Human Resources (3rd ed.)

6.      Macky & Johnson (2000), The Strategic Management of Human Resources in New Zealand

7.      Mathis & Jackson (2000), Human Resource Management (9th ed.)

8.      Nankervis, McCarthy, & Compton (1999), Strategic Human Resource Management (3rd ed.)

9.      Noe, Hollenbeck, Gerhart, & Wright (2000), Human Resource Management (3rd ed.)

10.  Rudman (1999), Human Resource Management in New Zealand (3rd ed.)

11.  Stone (2002), Human Resource Management (4th ed.)

 I first considered the definition of training provided in these texts and then considered the linkage (or the lack of linkage) to work environment factors in their discussions of the design of training programs. Table 1 (below) provides the definition of training described in each text. Table 2 provides a brief summary of the extent to which I concluded that work environment factors were considered in the design of training programs.

There is a great deal of similarity across the texts in the definitions of training provided in Table 1. Training tends to be focused on the skills required in employees' current jobs, to be viewed in a short-term time frame, and to have as its major purpose the improvement of individual, and thereby organisational, performance. Relating back to Figure 1 (above), the focus is on the job-related behaviours of employees and the resultant work outcomes. 

Given the clear connection to successful training outcomes, it seems logical that work environment factors should be considered in the design and implementation of training programs. Bohlander, et al. (p. 222) cites Training magazine's ongoing industry report figure of US$60 billion being spent in the USA on training annually.  This is not small change, and effectiveness should be a major concern. Returning to the textbooks selected for study, I reviewed this issue in Table 2. Work environment factors and/or transfer of training are mentioned in seven of the eleven books.  However, I do not believe just mentioning this issue is sufficient. In my opinion, only three of these (Gómez-Mejía, et al., Macky & Johnson, and Noe, et al.) provide a reasonably thorough discussion and only one -- Noe, et al. -- actually positions the work environment as a factor in the instructional design process. (I applaud these authors.) Generally, the texts other than the three mentioned above tend to mention the work environment as a factor in specialized types of training (such as on-the-job-training) or mention very generally the need to set an appropriate culture and provide support. I do not consider this to be adequate. 

Effective Transfer of Training and Work Environment Factors 

A lack of attention to work environment factors in training design runs directly counter to what we know about the link between training effectiveness and work environment factors from the transfer of training literature (Baldwin & Ford, 1988; Facteau, Dobbins, Russell, Ladd, & Kudisch, 1995).  Tharenou (1995) found that in an Australian federal agency supervisors support enhanced training effectiveness. Rouiller and Goldstein (1993) concluded that the organisational transfer climate of the work situation affects the degree to which learned behaviour will be transferred onto the actual job. Tracey, Tannenbaum, and Kavanaugh (1995) found that both climate and culture were directly related to post-training behaviours. Brinkerhoff and Montesino (1995) found significantly higher training useage among trainees who received two management support interventions, a pre-training expectation discussion and an after-training follow on discussion. Machin and Fogarty (1997) noted that, "When a lack of support is evident or a lack of opportunity to perform trained tasks exists, these factors may inhibit the transfer of training" (p. 102).

This problem has been raised in the past.  Robinson and Robinson (1985) stressed the need to conduct a work environment assessment to uncover barriers to skill transfer in the work environment before training begins and the need to work with line managers to remove these barriers. Baldwin and Ford indicated in 1988 that research gaps included the need to test operalisations of training design and work environment factors that have an impact on transfer. If these concerns have been met, it appears the results have generally not made their way into our introductory HRM texts. 

The Challenge for Researchers

The broad challenge that researchers face here is primarily "How can we design and implement effective training programs that appropriately take into account the work environment within which that training must be applied?"  More specifically,

1.      How can we best make assessment of the relevant work environment factors a part of the initial training needs assessment?

2.      How can we best incorporate any needed work environment factor interventions into the training program design and development?

3.      How can we best build monitoring of relevant work environment factors and their impact on training transfer into our routine training evaluation procedures?

As researchers are able to deal with these questions, I would hope to see those answers reflected in HRM texts such as those mentioned in this article.

Steps for Practitioners

Practitioners however, have to design and implement training programs now (and justify training expenditures to their management).  Many have training programs in which they have already invested considerable time and money.  Practitioners need not wait for more research in order to make progress in this area. Attention can be given to work environment factors within most existing training programs and can be incorporated in the future design efforts based on what we already know. 

Consider the basic instructional systems design methodology, "ADDIE" (for analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation) that Schlegel (1995) has referred to as the "generic" model. Since we are concerned here primarily with what is done during training design -- the major activities -- and how we might modify them, the ADDIE model is useful for illustration purposes.  Most of the texts we reviewed advocated some version of the ADDIE model for designing and implementing training programs. Most provided discussions of various design/development and implementation alternatives, and advocated some version of Kirkpatrick's four-level evaluation method after implementation (Kirkpatrick 1998).  Appropriate attention can be given to work environment factors within this basic existing framework. To illustrate, consider the following steps:

1.      The initial training needs assessment should include an assessment of work environment factors of the setting in which the training will be applied. In particular, factors that will tend to cancel the impact of the training must be identified and work environment factor objectives defined, along with training objectives. This can be done at both organisation (policies and procedures, culture) and task (the setting in which the trainees work) levels. The identification of the training need may have been done by moving from organisation to task to individual level, but we suggest analysis of work environment factors that could impact training be done from the individual to the task to the organisation level. The question might be stated as "Now that we know what training is needed for the individual, what work environment factors could interfere with that training being effective"?

2.      The design and implementation of work environment factor interventions is needed to deal with any factors that have been identified as potentially cancelling the impact of training.  Implementation of work environment interventions should be scheduled prior to or concurrent with the actual training.  Consideration should also be given to work environment factor interventions designed specifically to enhance the transfer of training (for example, through reinforcement).

3.      The evaluation phase should include evaluation of work environment interventions plus evaluation of work environment impact on training transfer. Any factors in the work environment that are interfering with training transfer need to be identified as quickly as possible, so corrective interventions may be taken before the value of the training is lost.

Consideration of work environment factors should be viewed as an integral part of training design as suggested by Noe, et al.  The main difference between the three steps for practitioners suggested above and what we are often already doing in regard to designing training is that I am advocating going beyond just mentioning that the work environment exists as an issue, as was the case in some of the text books mentioned. I believe there is a need for our introductory HRM texts to focus more directly with the work environment itself, and on the manager's role in ensuring that the work environment contributes to the effectiveness of training. 


I strongly believe that our introductory HRM texts should provide for greater linkage of work environment factors to the design and implementation of training programs. Determining how best to establish that linkage presents a significant challenge for researchers. Putting those findings into practice presents a significant challenge for practitioners. It is not wrong to place emphasis on individual factors. Certainly it is individual employees that we train. But I suggest strong emphasis on work environment factors is also needed in what we teach and in our HRM practices in order to achieve the level of training effectiveness we desire.  A step in this direction will be ensuring this is stressed in our introductory undergraduate HRM textbooks.

Table 1

Definitions of training


Definition of Training

Bohlander, et al.

The primary reason for training new employees is to bring their KSAs up to the required levels.  Additional training can follow to provide employees with new knowledge and skills (p.222).

De Cenzo & Robbins

Training is generally job specific and oriented to the type of work to be done and the skills required (p.232).


The North American edition of Dessler indicates that training refers to "the methods used to give new or present employees the skill they need to perform their jobs" (p. 249).  

Dessler, et al.

Similarly, the Australia/New Zealand edition of Dessler indicates that "Training is the process of teaching employees the knowledge or skills they need to better perform their current jobs" (p. 349).  Training "…aims to help employees meet the goals of the company as well as their own goals" (p. 349).

Gómez-Mejía, et al.

Training is "the process of providing employees with specific skills or helping them correct deficiencies in their performance" (p. 260).  The goal of training is a fairly quick improvement in workers' performance. 

Macky & Johnson

The authors indicate that training "refers to specific learning activities that aim to improve employees' performance, based on job-related KSAs" (p. 360). 

Mathis & Jackson

Training is "a process whereby people acquire capabilities to aid in the achievement of organizational goals" (p.317).

Nankervis, et al.

Training is "any procedure initiated by an organisation to foster learning among organisational members" (p. 308). 

Noe, et al.

Training refers to "a planned effort by a company to facilitate employees' learning of job-related competencies" (p. 208).


Training tends to be narrowly focused on job-related skills (p. 421).  The challenge is to "enhance the ability of the organisation and its people to carry out their roles and fulfil their objectives" (p. 422).


Training "typically emphasises immediate improvement in job performance via the procurement of specific skills (for example, computer skills)" (p. 323). 

Table 2

Consideration of Work Environment Factors



Consideration of Work Environment Factors


Bohlander, et al.


Assessment, design, implementation, and evaluation are discussed, but the work environment is not mentioned specifically as a factor to be considered in these phases.


De Cenzo & Robbins

The work environment is discussed in connection with job instruction training (JIT), in calling for a "designated resource person" that employees can contact if they need assistance implementing training.



The North American edition of Dessler offers a five-step approach for training, with validation following design and before implementation.  In discussing these steps, it does not address what might need to be done to or in the work environment itself to make the training transfer successful.  

Dessler, et al.

The Australia/New Zealand edition of Dessler discusses the work environment in connection with OJT and JIT training and offers the same five-step approach for training.  Again, what might need to be done to or in the work environment itself to make the training transfer successful is not addressed.


Gómez-Mejía, et al.

The importance of context for training effectiveness is addressed.  The authors state "an organizational culture that supports change, learning, and improvement can be a more important determinant of a training program's effectiveness than any aspect of the program itself" (p.262).  The need for managers' endorsement is also stressed.


Macky & Johnson

The authors provide a good discussion of the potential impact of the work environment under the heading "environmental factors" (p. 387), including selection, support during training, and post-training activities.


Mathis & Jackson

Transfer of training is addressed in terms of trainees being able to apply the training content in their work environment and in terms of the need to maintain learned abilities over time (p. 323).  The authors provide a three-step process (assessment, implementation, and evaluation) for the design of training, but do not tie these steps to the work environment.


Nankervis, et al.

One paragraph on the importance of transfer of training is offered, noting that training conditions should be as realistic as possible and that supervisory support is needed, but the discussion is quite limited and general in nature (p. 322). 


Noe, et al.

A good discussion of work environment characteristics is provided, including climate for transfer, technological support, manager support, peer support, self-management skills, and opportunity to use the learned skills (p.229).  Significantly, ensuring transfer of training is included as a component of instructional design.



A very thorough treatment of the training process is provided, but there is no discussion of how the work environment could or should be considered in the design of training. 



Transfer of training into the work environment is mentioned.  There is some discussion of how this should be built into the design of training by requiring that that trainees develop action plans detailing how they are going to apply their training.   



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