On-the-job Performance

People forget: here’s what you can do about it

Posted on: May 25, 2021Updated on: April 17, 2024By: Carol Leaman, CEO

Have you ever walked into a room and instantly forgotten what it was you needed? Or left the mall only to realize you’ve lost track of where you parked your car—even though you were only shopping for a few hours?

Forgetting is just part of how human memory works. We don’t always get a say in what the brain holds onto or what it lets go of. And these things are written off as everyday occurrences that don’t raise red flags, especially when they only add a few extra minutes to our routines.

String on person's finger

But people forget at work, too. In fact, employees lose a staggering 70% of the information they learn by the second day. And when it boils down to the frontline, forgetting the important stuff brings real-world consequences: on-the-job accidents, poor customer reviews, lost sales opportunities or worse. That’s when forgetting turns into a problem for your bottom line.

See how a few minutes of daily reinforcement makes the learning really stick.  

Help frontline employees remember more

Most employees come to work wanting to do a good job every day. But without the right support they make errors (because they can’t remember all the right things to do in the right moments). This is especially true in frontline roles where there’s a lot to remember and things change rapidly as operational and business priorities shift. 

Here are three ways you can get your frontline employees to remember what they’ve learned.

1. Make training sessions bite-sized and frequent.

Traditional training is usually jam-packed with everything employees should know upfront. Yes, they want to be prepared for what comes next. But too much at once can mean it’s all at risk of going in one ear and out the other.

Instead, try shorter bursts of microlearning —it’s more engaging, easier to consume and suitable for our short attention spans. Employees still get what they need from you but it’s easier to digest and more likely to actually be recalled in the moments that matter.

2. Continuously reinforce what can’t be lost.

Improving job performance starts with improving employee knowledge. What’s critical is that knowledge can be fleeting—90% of information learned in a training session can be forgotten in a month. This is known as the forgetting curve and if you want your employees to keep that 90% of their knowledge, it’ll need to be challenged. 

Turn off the firehose and give frontline employees training they’ll remember: 3-5 minutes of daily reinforcement that’s spaced out over time. Then when they start forgetting, they’re nudged with a reminder before it’s lost for good.

The Forgetting curve

3. Keep it relevant and personalized.

No two employees are the same: this is true at HQ and on the frontline. Some are novices where others are experts. They have different needs, including different training.

Identify where their knowledge gaps are on an individual level and target those areas with the right support. Training will be more meaningful for them when it follows a personalized learning path that acknowledges success and delivers increasingly more difficult questions until subject mastery is achieved. With time, you’ll have every employee performing just like your best.

If you only give your people new information once or even a handful of times, they may forget. It’s not their fault and the good news is it’s not an unbreakable habit. But if you want to fix it, you’re going to have to make some changes. Learn more about the value of boosting your frontline’s memory with training that’s short, fun and fits in the flow of work over here.

Carol Leaman, CEO

Carol isn’t your typical leader. She’s driving a revolutionary approach to employee knowledge, but she’s also a doors-open, come-see-me-anytime kind of executive. Carol doesn’t just talk the talk—she definitely walks the walk. You can read more from her on Training Industry Magazine, ATD, CLO and as a regular contributor for Fortune.