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I am a manager of a software developer whom I really want to retain because he is a high performer and a joy to work with.

In our 1:1 meetings, he has expressed the desire to learn a skill which is not quite applicable to his job at my company, but nevertheless I'm considering asking my company to pay for him to attend this training so that he can develop the skills he's passionate about, even though it isn't directly job related.

On one hand, I believe he'll really appreciate this gesture and may stay with us longer because he's getting to scratch this itch without changing jobs.

On the other hand, I may very well be expediting his departure from my company by training him for another job!

So, my question: Is it a good idea to provide non-job-related training as a perk to an employee I wish to retain?

  • How "not quite applicable"? If you have a Java developer that really wants to learn about some technology that your organization doesn't and realistically would never consider using, that's very different than if they want to learn something that could at least potentially become work related even if that meant that this individual's job role evolved. – Justin Cave Sep 24 at 21:22
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    Just a note that I try to apply in my managerial tasks, "Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough, so they don’t want to." (Sir. Richard Branson, 2014). – Crosbonaught Sep 24 at 22:38
  • @JustinCave - Your first example is correct; he wants to learn about some technology that my organization doesn't and realistically would never consider using. – CFL_Jeff Sep 25 at 12:19
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Yes, if the company has the budget, you definitely want your employees to enhance their knowledge. It might give them new perspectives.

You never know what new techniques or approaches they could learn and start applying in their current role. More knowledgeable is always better. Would you rather have under-skilled or over-skilled employees? As long as the training is not disrupting regular work.

If your employees are leaving as soon as they can, you have a different problem, IMO. And if you don't offer training, competent employees will leave because "company B gives me a chance to learn X"

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Is it a good idea to provide non-job-related training as a perk to an employee I wish to retain?

Yes it is. It's always good to try invest in your employees. It makes them happy and better prepared, and that is always beneficial to the company. Who knows if what they learn there results in a good business opportunity you had not thought about.

If what worries you is that this person will leave after getting the course/conference, then I suggest you put some clause on it.

Say, if the employee leaves the company within a year of taking the course/conference then that employee will have to pay it back. This is not rare thing to see in the Workplace.

Now, even though employees are happy that does not mean they won't switch jobs, but it's less likely. Anyways, that is something out of your hands, and at most you can secure the company's interest by (1) improving the knowledge of your workers and (2) including such clause when paying the course to this person.

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When I was managing large teams I'd occasionally get unusual training requests whilst meeting with employees for their learning and development planning.

I used to emphasise to them that we need to balance three things:

  • Core skills the company needs because it's our bread and butter, there's strong demand or a strategic direction to cover certain technologies.
  • Skills needed to to deliver on customer needs.
  • Skills to help the employee in their professional development; something they're interested in that will help them take that next career step.

If/when I got requests for skills that weren't "useful" within the company I'd tend to have to decline (it's not a charity after all) but if I sensed some potential mutual benefit even if it was a bit of a longshot then I'd explain to them that it's bonded over 12 months. So if they leave immediately after the training then they have to pay it back, via a sliding scale (e.g. pay back half after 6 months) or pay nothing back if they leave 12 months or more after the training.

I also found it encouraging and quite common if/when a high performer had the initiative to self study to give themselves a leg up before a full training course.

  • As a manager you typically can't just make these rules up on your own. You'd have to engage with HR, and have a policy put in place. – AndreiROM Sep 25 at 15:16
  • @AndreiROM of course that's obviously the case. We never had to engage with HR but yes there were policies in place. – ChrisFNZ Sep 25 at 20:37
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No, you're in business your focus is the businesses needs not philanthropy.

The potential benefit of retaining versus leaving are unknowns and very flimsy to my mind. I would advise against using business resources and time for such a thing and I'd be asking some very hard questions of you if I was your boss.

Unless you're the boss you shouldn't take risks with company assets where you're not sure of the outcome, it can become a career limiter for you.

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    Note that it could be considered a "benefit", and should be discussed as such (no different from a health plan) and should be included in the list of benefits when discussing salary. – Gregory Currie Sep 25 at 0:41
  • @GregoryCurrie they're not discussing salary or negotiating a contract.... unsure why you think they are – Kilisi Sep 25 at 3:10
  • They are not not (at least now). But what I'm saying is if it's not a work related skill, and the manager is allowing it as a benefit (which it is), it will probably come up during those discussions. – Gregory Currie Sep 25 at 3:28
  • @GregoryCurrie or it could come up in the managers exit interview after dismissal .... or aliens etc,. it's better to act on real information than maybe's maybe nots. If there is provision for this sort of thing the manager should already be aware of it, not making his own rules up on a whim – Kilisi Sep 25 at 6:05
  • My point is, and I haven't expressed this well, it's a benefit like any other. I don't think salary reviews are that outlandish of a scenario. – Gregory Currie Sep 25 at 6:11
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How much money is involved for this training?

If the employee is paid well, perhaps it isn't the money but getting the time off to attend the seminar/training.

Also, if the company pays, consider that others may want to take advantage of such a generous offer to improve their knowledge base.

If the employee pays for the training and what is learned works out to significantly benefit the company - then consider a raise.

No, I think it would 'open a can of worms' to single out an exemplary employee in this way. Perhaps a 'merit bonus' at the end of the year to subtly offset a pretty expensive training course?

If the employee doesn't have enough PTO to cover being paid while attending training, consider: Can I Allow Employees to Have a Negative PTO Balance? https://gusto.com/blog/payroll/negative-pto-balance

P.S. What if the employee doesn't finish the training for some reason?

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