Is Sink or Swim an Acceptable Approach to Training Employees? 

Young graduates that make their way into organizations can always expect long hours of training sessions that can last for weeks on end. Most recruits arrive green in their first companies with little to no knowledge of the company environment, its internal policies, and its work culture. While some organizations believe in training and building their employees on the job by investing time and company resources, others choose a sink-or-swim approach in which they purposefully limit their guidance and assistance to their fresh recruits. For years such methods of job training have been heavily criticized by experienced working professionals and corporate entities which begs the question, why is it necessary? Let us know ‘Is Sink or Swim an Acceptable Approach to Training Employees?’

Is Sink or Swim an Acceptable Approach to Training Employees? 

Is Sink or Swim an Acceptable Approach to Training Employees? 

Sink or swim type of job training is one in which companies test the adaptive capabilities of their employees by providing them little to no support as they try to figure out their roles and responsibilities in an alien work setting. The objective of this method of job training is to prepare individuals who can get used to the company environment and working policies as quickly as possible so that the company can focus resources on achieving organizational objectives or other stuff rather than spending them on insightful training. 

What is sink or swim Job Training?

  • Sink or swim job training is a type of training that forces employees to learn on the job and quickly become productive. Employees are typically given a short amount of time to learn the ropes and must figure out how to be successful in their new roles.
  • This type of training can be challenging but it has the potential of creating employees that develop important skills they need to succeed in their careers.
  • The philosophy behind the sink-or-swim concept deals with adaptability. According to it, organizations should not be hand-holding employees throughout their initial weeks, but should instead give them a basic objective and observe how the fresh recruits find their way around the workplace and get the work done, no matter what.
  • Managers that have trained employees with this approach say that this is how individuals can learn the hard and fast rules of the workplace and also learn to perform better than average, specifically when working under pressure. 
  • Companies that prioritize the sink-or-swim approach usually have better hiring strategies. But once the onboarding process ends, they are thrown into the deep end where their observation skills will be the difference between them staying or getting fired from the company.

Its Impact on the Organizational Environment:

  • Consider this, you are a freshly hired trainee right out of MBA into a new company. The day after onboarding, you arrive in the office and ask your manager how you are going to begin your first day on the job, he shows you your desk and informs you about your job and its responsibilities. The rest is to be figured out by you. 
  • As a fresh recruit who hasn’t yet gone through the working policies of the organization, you are going to be left clueless as to what your first step will be as an employee and how will you contribute towards the collective efforts of your department and team. 
  • Your initial weeks of working in a busy corporate environment will feel like you are caught in a whirlpool just swirling around and not knowing how to escape this conundrum. 
  • These instances highlight the struggles of numerous employees who only within weeks of their hiring feel overwhelmed and struggling to keep up. 
  • Research that was done to study the effectiveness of the sink or swim approach revealed that this method of job training reduces the employees’ ability to effectively contribute in completing tasks and contributing towards business objectives as a result of low morale and lack of enthusiasm.
  • In a workplace environment that follows the sink-or-swim approach, employees are expected to achieve their objectives by any means necessary. This can force employees to look for unethical means to achieve their objectives which is never a good choice of workplace habit among both managers and employees.
  • Sink-or-swim workplace culture can prove to be a difficult environment for inexperienced and young professionals to assimilate themselves into mainly because of the non-cooperative atmosphere that might prevail in the organization. 
  • The practice of constant hiring and firing of employees can prove to be a financial strain on organizations that regularly flesh out capable individuals because of the sink-or-swim approach. It is a well-known fact that hiring is a costlier affair than training a new employee with basic organizational skills. 
  • In a sink-or-swim approach work environment, the risk of leaving non-properly trained employees to fend for themselves can result in an expensive mistake for which they weren’t trained. Unfortunately, the management will still blame the employee and show them the door. 

Risks Associated with thi Type of Training:

  • The risk of losing out on capable individuals is perhaps one of the biggest risks when using a sink-or-swim approach to developing capable employees. The inconsistencies related to this method of job training don’t allow most individuals to develop any real workplace skills before they get fired for no fault of their own. 
  • Sink or swim job training is unlike any other methods of job training, but not in a good way. The fact that there is no certainty for employee retention and skill development associated with this approach is enough reason for young potential employees to avoid organizations that follow this approach to training. 
  • The sink-or-swim method of job training can create a negative public image for organizations that prefer this approach. Those responsible for such activities usually are employees who tried their best to work under such an approach but were still forced to leave the company.
  • Among various social responsibilities that organizations are required to live up to, employee engagement is one of them. Employee engagement allows creative ideas to flourish and productivity among the workforce to rise. 

But the sink-or-swim approach to job training doesn’t allow room for such responsibilities to be carried out which as we know by now, does more harm than good. 

  • The most negative aspect of the sink-or-swim method is job dissatisfaction. Employees that are forced to work without any assistance from trainers and managers eventually develop a sense of resentment for the company and their work. 

The consequences of this are declining productivity, job uncertainty, and bottom lines not being met on time. 

  • To put it bluntly, the sink-or-swim method of job training is a regressive approach and shouldn’t be implemented or used by organizations without making the necessary tweaks in the approach’s structure.

How companies should Implement a Sink-or-Swim Approach?

  • Although a sink-or-swim approach is risky because it can lead to employee failure, wasted time and money resources if done correctly, it can help identify the strengths and weaknesses of new employees quickly and provide them with the necessary skills to be successful in their roles.

The following are the approaches organizations can implement when using sink-or-swim as a method of job training: 

  • Make sure that the tasks you assign are challenging and not just busy work. The goal is to push employees to their limits so they can learn what they’re capable of.
  • Be prepared to provide support if needed. While it’s necessary to let employees struggle a bit, you can’t allow them to flounder completely. Have someone on hand who can offer help if needed.
  • Don’t use this approach with every employee. Sink or swim training is best used for specific roles where quick assessment is necessary, such as sales or customer service positions.
  • To maximize the benefits and minimize the risks of sink-or-swim job training, organizations should carefully plan and execute this type of training. 


Sink-or-swim method of job training should be an underlying part of the training process. However, it should not be used by companies as the definitive approach to training their employees. It is just not the optimal approach to building responsible talent. The whole point of implementing the Sink or swim method should be to allow new employees to put their abilities on the line, challenge themselves, and test their abilities under the confines of a safe training space. This would allow the new employees to hone their skills and learn how, when, and where to use them. The traditional approach to sink-or-swim job training isn’t a viable option and companies should be careful when considering using it as their preferred method of training. 

Is Sink or Swim an Acceptable Approach to Training Employees? 

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