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In my team I wanted to dedicate time for people's growth. I gave each of them some material and actions to do, to start working together on a development plan. All my team members started on this and we are progressing except for one.
This person has initially shown enthusiasm for the idea when discussing with my manager before I take over the team, and also seemed positive about it when I first talked to him about it. But since then he keeps avoiding doing anything related, with some vague excuse of not having the time which is really not true. I ask him what can I do to help him get around to doing it but never gives me an answer expect that he will do it next week but nothing happens.

I am new to management and I am curious if this behavior is typical or not.

A couple of things I have noticed (not sure if they convey something useful for the purpose of my question) is that he shared feedback to me about another team member which he did not share to that team member when he approached him directly for feedback. Also he has given me the impression so far that he is not open to feedback. And he also seems to complaint in a kind of indirect or passive manner.

I was wondering if more experienced managers have encountered similar behavior and what advice you have.

Update based on comments:

  1. I am not trying to enforce anyone to do something they are not interested in
  2. The path to grow is open to the person. Not eg pushing to managerial direction
  3. I know about the time available because I work very close with the team. Hence it is not the case that someone is overloaded and I am clueless about it
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  • 146
    Why don't you just let him do the job he was hired for?
    – schizoid04
    Mar 21 at 0:25
  • 125
    Additionally - If he's telling you he is having trouble with time, and you're ignoring and dismissing it, this is a bit of an issue on your part. You should not be dismissing someone's complaints about time... This is how you burn out and lose employees, and is the spawn of endless posts here as well
    – schizoid04
    Mar 21 at 0:26
  • 78
    Did you ask him which direction he wants to grow? A software developer (like me) might want to keep developing software instead of "growing" into project management. A carpenter might prefer working with wood over managing people and customers. A surgeon might prefer doing surgery instead of filling out forms. And older employees might prefer doing what they're good and experienced at to learning something that's currently hyped by management, but which they know won't survive the next two years. Mar 21 at 9:56
  • 9
    Do they have to do the actions and learning during company time at home/private time?
    – lalala
    Mar 21 at 13:41
  • 50
    What do you define as growth? Many managers see it as becoming more manager like. Many employees don't want that. I, for example, once told my CEO if he made me a manager I'd quit on the spot. I like programming, not people. Make sure you're tailoring things to what they actually want to do in life, not some "path" that you think they should take. Mar 21 at 17:29

13 Answers 13

170

That you're providing the time, tools, and resources to foster career growth is commendable.

That you're trying to mandate it is not.

If this person isn't interested then leave them alone. This isn't something you can or should mandate. Their choices will determine their career growth, for better or worse.

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    I suggest you not try to force the issue. You can mention it from time to time to see if they've changed their mind or are more motivated, but don't try to mandate it or force it. People make choices for themselves. They are not the property of the company. They are independent, autonomous beings. If they're not interested then that's their choice and their right.
    – joeqwerty
    Mar 20 at 20:21
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    @smith people might simply be scared to outright say "I'm not interested", especially in countries/companies with a generally hostile or competitive culture. They might fear being replaced by someone who at least claims to want growth.
    – Erik
    Mar 21 at 7:50
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    "If this person isn't interested right now. Maybe this person has a lot on his mind right now. Thinks might be different in a year :)
    – Martijn
    Mar 21 at 9:51
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    I have yet to join a company that had career development that isn't a complete farce. I know they exist, but it'll be extremely open ended and NOT MANDATED, especially not by my current manager. Google's career development strategy is to let the developer take charge, and there's no oversight.
    – Nelson
    Mar 21 at 13:09
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    @smith I have a very similar attitude as your employee. I've had several different managers for the 10 years I've been at my current company. All of them have been very "you have to focus on your career growth" and "make sure you set some learning objectives for the year". And all have learned very quickly that I have very little interest in doing that. I'm happy in my current role, make enough money to meet my family's needs, and save for retirement. If i wanted to learn something else, I would do that, but don't want it forced on me or be a constant topic of discussion Mar 22 at 11:46
60

I worked in a similar environment where we were expected to complete industry based certifications. Initially it all seemed like a great idea, but the implementation was quite onerous on the staff and rarely did the learning align with our day to day tasks.

The ultimate impact on staff was that this was an additional workload that consumed potential billable hours as well as personal time outside of hours. Any disruption to the home life of staff that you try and force from the workplace is going to have an impact, your staff will receive pressure from their families and friends, or your staff are going to try an maintain their normal social commitments and do the extra work on top, which can lead to poor performance back at work.

My first advice is that if you are going to try and manage their learning, then you need to find a way to make sure it doesn't spill over into personal time. Any direction from you (management) is work, we shouldn't be going to the gym or playing social sports with the company/management unless the company is picking up the bill for that time, mandated learning goes the same way.

Any mandated pressure from work that impacts outside the normal/expected office hours is a change to the original working conditions, such a change can be enacted, but it should be recognised as a formal change to the conditions of work and therefor a new employment contract should be negotiated. If not offered, some staff will eventually resign or their morale and performance will degrade to a point where you ask them to leave.

For optimal results, try to align the study with actual business tasks. That way you will also benefit from their expanding skill set but it lowers the overall impact on the employees.

If the learning does not align with the work, you MUST offer freedom of choice. Managers can mandate work, they have no jurisdiction outside of the workplace. If the learning does not correlate to the work, then all you should offer is support and time. Any request from management is simply a work request. If I sit down to do some reading or course work at home, if my wife asks why I am doing that and not spending time with the kids, and my answer is "Because my boss wants me to do this"... The polite response from her would be something like "If you're not getting paid overtime for this, you can do it when you get back to work."

If you allow paid office time to complete studies but it is not aligned with their work, then you will realize more success by leaving staff to utilise that time as they see fit. Some might use this time to complete overdue projects or to otherwise catchup on billable hours, which for you is still a good option, but it would indicate that the rest of your management style does not align well with your offer of encouragement of personal growth. If your staff don't take that time to do something for themselves then it is likely that some other pressures in the workplace are conflicting, for instance you shouldn't set a quota of perceived effort to earn the personal development time, it needs to be condition free if it is to work, you might find that some people simply need this time to decompress or de-stress.

I find this to be the ultimate test of workplace satisfaction, if staff are eager to work on their own projects or learning and can demonstrate a level of productivity during their personal development time, then it can show that the pressure of the workplace is not negatively affecting their mental state. If they take this time to sleep or apparently do nothing, then this might indicate issues with their overall workload. If they continue to do work, however well natured they may seem about it, it shows that your emphasis or commitment to this personal development time is not reflected or projected by the rest of the management team or other business priorities.

To increase adoption, one avenue is to offer financial compensation, either as a lump-sum bonus payment or increase in salary at the completion of a certification or course. This is a clear way to both recognise and award the effort, but also to demonstrate your commitment to actual outcomes. The carrot is there for motivation but it helps with staff retention, once they are more qualified, then they could easily seek higher paying roles elsewhere.

Sometimes, we get those members of staff who are simply not interested in putting in extra effort. That has to be OK, we are all managing our own work/life balance. Some of us might like the idea of personal growth but simply not have the motivation to do anything about it personally. Maybe they have achieved that perfect balance or are simply happy with where they are at in life, it is not for us to judge them or to force them outside of their comfort zone, to do so would often lead to negative impacts on work.

As they say, "You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot force it to drink".

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    +1. This is a very well written and insightful answer.
    – joeqwerty
    Mar 20 at 23:29
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    "The ultimate impact on staff was that this was an additional workload that consumed potential billable hours as well as personal time outside of hours." There wasn't a Continuing Education type billing code? That strikes me as rather improper. CED should be billable hours. Mar 21 at 4:33
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    What's the source of the quotes ?
    – serv-inc
    Mar 21 at 9:20
  • 5
    I need to stop doing that, after drafting my response a read it back and add in reflective or supportive comments. So the source is me, but I put a different hat on, I'm still adjusting to this minimal markdown style. Mar 21 at 10:08
  • 2
    @ChrisSchaller replace the > with a *. As bullet points, people won't think you're quoting someone else.
    – FreeMan
    Mar 22 at 17:22
41

The employee could be externally focused. His passion is outside of work. These passions can often be very impressive.

Everyone needs money to live, though, so he has a job. People with an external focus just want to come into the office, do their job, then go home.

These can be very valuable employees who do their job well and stay at it for years. Most departments have routine work that is always need to be done and doesn’t change very much. They are also roles that honestly aren’t on any kind of promotion track. Externally focused employees are perfect for those roles.

It’s not that they won’t or can’t learn. If you give them new tasks, they will learn how to do them well. However, they are not going to be interested in learning that’s not tied directly to what they need to do right now — their job is not their passion, their passion is outside of work.

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  • I know people who have "impressive outside-of-work passions" but are still, also, passionate about their jobs. And I know people who don't have outside-of-work passions and are not passionate about their job. I don't think there is that much of a correlation between the two, as you seem to imply.
    – Stef
    Mar 22 at 9:39
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    It's not about correlation. It's about one possible explanation. You can't take a particular cause and generalize it as the only cause.
    – blackeneth
    Mar 22 at 18:40
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There are many reasons why a person would not "work on their growth" despite having work time set aside for it:

  • the person may not know how to self-direct a learning process, be unsure where to start, or otherwise resist the process of learning
  • the person may be slow at their regular job and keep needing that time to meet their existing work load
  • the amount of work time available for learning may not be enough for this person to get started and make enough progress that you notice
  • the topic may be one they agree they should learn, but they don't want to learn it, so they never get around to it
  • the person may feel uncomfortable being measured and monitored, and reject the learning to avoid that
  • the modality you're offering (books, video courses, read the internet for a while then try stuff, study groups with coworkers, etc) may be one they strongly dislike or can't learn with.

If you are not setting aside time in the work day for it then your claim that they have time cannot be true: you don't know what else is happening in their life.

If you are asking them to prove the learning with any kind of certification or exam, then nervousness about that can add to all these issues around the learning.

Now, the only way to know which of these it is, is to ask. But you've asked and got "meh" kinds of answers, so you need to change the way you ask. There is a huge difference between "why didn't you" and "how can I make it easier for you to". You could also ask open ended questions like "what do you think of our online course vendor" or "is there a course you would like us to send you on".

You didn't ask how to make the person learn, only why they would resist. I will offer you an unsolicited tip that some people learn for the pure joy of it, and value jobs that offer it, and some don't. For those who don't, you need to show them either the carrot of "those who learn X may get juicy projects, a raise, a completion/pass bonus or a promotion" or the stick of "those who don't learn X will be left behind when we move on to more and more X projects". These people can be good and valued employees, once you figure out how to make learning into something that is worth their while.

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    There is also a possibly that an employee finds their existing job duties occupy their ordinary working hours already - which need not make them "slow" but could lead to feelings of stress and subsequent avoidance behavior.
    – traktor
    Mar 21 at 4:47
  • 17
    I feel this is missing the fairly obvious "person doesn't actually care about career growth". There's people who are fine with where they are and don't want to advance their career anywhere, at least for the time being.
    – Erik
    Mar 21 at 7:45
  • 5
    @Erik: I'm unable to find the previous question about someone who had career growth into a software team lead/manger position, and not enjoying it - wanting to be demoted to their previous position as a software engineer. With a popular answer being "Welcome to learning why software developers don't always want to promote to team lead/management.". Mar 21 at 8:51
  • 9
    Another big possibility is surely “They are not convinced that these activities will actually be useful for their career growth.” (this overlaps with your last reason, but is much broader)
    – PLL
    Mar 21 at 9:13
  • 1
    @AlexanderThe1st workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/148477/… has some links to similar questions. Mar 21 at 10:25
17

You do not provide any details about the offers you gave your team members. You should strongly consider the possibility that what you consider growth is not seen that way by this particular person.

Here a personal anecdote related to this issue. One manager of mine, who I otherwise respect, has given out books on how to be a good team member. He considered this a great way for people to improve their skills and, yes, for growth. It turns out that, IMO of course, this particular book was utter trite, filling out half a good idea into 300 pages. My feedback was not positive.

It could be, that your offer is seen in the same way by that employee, and that the procrastination is their way of giving negative feedback to your offer.

10

This may be considered yet another anecdote but I think it's valuable;

I worked on an enginereing team, with a variety of folks all of whom took their job pretty seriously despite a fairly "top heavy" company that bombarded them with a lot of management BS day to day.

Now, some folks were young / keen / wanting to progress and either climb the ladder or just advance their salary/skills and that was great and encouraged - although a lot of the time it was assumed that progression automatically meant all engineers wanted to become managers, which was not the case (many considered it a threat of punsihment) and restricted a lot of talented people from actually progressing.

However, some of the old hands had been there a long time, were content with their lot and had absolutely zero interest in doing anything else - the job they did was an important one that wasn't going away or changing appreciably from year to year, it required technical skill & knowledge as well as benfiting greatly from their years of experience, local knowledge, and a degree of pride in the equipment at the locations that were within their remit (as far as management systems actually allowed any actual pride or ownership - but that's a different rant).

These chaps all performed well, cared about what they did, didn't make any waves and weren't interested in doing so. They had seen managers come & go, teams split, merge, move and shake, they'd seen the company change hands, change shape & size, and seen a dynamic new corporate re-organisation every other year since Jesus was in nappies and were rightly uninterested and un-bothered with any of it.

So, every year their managers had to go through the whole HR process of doing their annual review, setting targets, agreeing development goals, aligning their behaviours with whatever the merketing department decided our corporate vision was, etc. etc. and then they'd go back to doing exactly the same thing they'd been doing for the last 20 years until next year...

They knew it was all pointless, their managers mostly knew it was all pointless, they all just wanted to be left alone to do their jobs for the next 5-10 years until the next round of redundancies or earl retirement made it worth their while to jump.

To a keen and dynamic young management type these guys were anathema - seemingly unmotivated and disinterested - but they were holding critical parts of the business together and encouraging a culture of real quality in the rest of us that no corporate webinar ever could.

7

dedicate time for people's growth

What are you feeding them, fertilizer? Putting them on a windowsill so they get more sunlight exposure?

People are not plants. Not only you cannot mandate "growth", whatever that may be, but also by pushing it you imply that they don't/won't/can't develop their knowledge on their own. Anyone in a creative job would be developing their knowledge anyway, you'd hope, so industrial manure spreading just to follow some "good practice" is at best frowned upon, and at worst a sign that the management is following talking points from people whose only job is to convince others that their talking points are worth paying for (whether in ad revenue or executive trainings).

And if you think that the employee's lack of "growth" impairs their job, then that's another issue entirely: they lack the skillset/knowledge needed to do the work. But there's only so much you can do ahead of time to prevent that. Usually you'd see some signs that expansion of knowledge in certain areas is going to be necessary soon - that'll be the time to act, and it'd always be done on an individual level with any employee to which this would apply, not with a group at large.

1
  • job is to convince others: Amén. Coaching, soft skills training, building team actions, ITIL comes to mind +1 Mar 22 at 15:32
6

I can really identify with the employee. I am in software development and I keep my running knowledge up to date and expand it on the job, and in my own time (if I'm really interested). I also have many interests of potential benefit to my employer. My employer regularly lets me know they are very willing to invest in my further education. They have not pressed me in any way, and they have only once tried to suggest a managerial direction. I like it that way, since I'm in control of something which is inherently very personal.

My employer does, however, tries to force an office culture equally regularly. I think this is a similar principle, because while I can get excited about some aspects of the "change 3.0 project", the whole attempt of forcing it, brings out the revolutionary in me. Even if I can see the immediate benefit, I refuse to cooperate to achieve the greater goal (a bit overstated, but in essence true). And also be aware, what you see as nudging them towards self-improvement, may be conceived as trying to force them. I have no doubt my employer tries to start a "ground up" movement (or some other managerial slogan), and has good intentions, but I don't work that way.

Some things can only grow from within, office culture and personal development are good examples. You can offer the opportunities and support, but eventually it has to come from the employees themselves.

There are many great answers here already, but most seem to disregard the plethora of reasons this employee can have to act the way they do. And those reasons can be profoundly personal, and they may not be willing to share them with you. What works for me is a walk out of the office. Or a lunch somewhere or whatever, just out of office space. Being out of office levels any hierarchy, and allows both of you to speak on equal terms. Make sure they know it's just a friendly chat amongst "work-friends", no consequences involved and no ill feeling either way. And just ask them why they were so enthusiastic before, and so lackluster now (don't use that word). And tell them that it's okay if they don't want to say (they may not even know themselves), but that you just need to know if you have to plan for them in the near future. In these sort of talks, it is a good idea to ask open questions, but still offering an easy way out. Like "why do you not want to do it, or is it just timing?". This gives them the opportunity to use a presented, acceptable reason, open to interpretation, but would still encourage elaboration. Speaking for myself still, of course, I don't want to feel pressed into a corner. And a question like "why don't you want to do this thing which is good for you" can feel very confrontational.

5

Having read all the answers I noticed that none directly answered your remarks about how your employee is communicating both about this issue and other things at work.

It seems to me that they have a conflict-avoidant communication style. The most obvious reason to think this is because they don't seem to want to give direct feedback to another colleague. However, the fact that they respond to your queries about the growth thing with answers that seem vague and untrue to you may indicate that they do have some negative response that they are not comfortable to actually voice. Even the initial enthusiasm may fit into this pattern: when someone brings up a new idea, it is the socially expected response to be enthusiastic. However, if you are not truly enthused about an idea it is hard to keep up the enthusiastic response long term.

There are many good answers here about what could be the reasons for someone to resist the opportunity of growth that you presented to them. In summary:

  • the opportunity may not be as valuable to them as it would be to you
  • they may already spend their energy outside of work (either out of necessity, such as caring for others, or out of passion for a personal interest)
  • they may already spend their energy on their existing work tasks Keeping these possible answers in mind will help you keep an open mind to hearing the actual answer when you go speak to them.

Because I do think you need to ask again; however, considering the conflict averse signals this person has given off already, you need to do it in a non-threatening way. For an open conversation to happen, you need to make sure that:

  • it happens in a private, non-threatening location. (e.g. going for a coffee together as was mentioned in another answer)
  • you are not under time pressure (e.g. neither of you needs to run off to another meeting)
  • the other person knows you are truly only looking for information - no answer of theirs should have negative consequences for them. Perhaps you could state that you are looking to understand why they seemed so enthusiastic before and less so now.
4

The challenge here is that right now it seems that you're the only one deciding what "growth" means.

What is growth? Becoming a better generalist, or a better specialist? Is it the management track, or the rank-and-file track? Some folks' end game might be to learn enough to run someone else's existing business, and for others it might mean to learn enough to run a business of their own. I really think you're pushing a very narrow definition of "growth" on your staff, and surprised that they're just not biting the worm on your hook.

Some folks are fine with a being holding pattern while they raise their children, take care of aging parents, get deeper in their personal faith or wellness, or derive satisfaction from learning and experiencing things that have absolutely nothing to do with their vocation. They don't desire growth on the job because their plates are already full.

It'd be fantastic for you to keep encouraging your staff but growth is a very personal path. You're not going to succeed with a one-size-fits-all approach.

2

Why are you asking us? We aren't the guy and can only speculate as to why he does what he does. Further, you explicitly complained that this subordinate came to you instead of providing feedback to a coworker. Now, you're coming to us, instead of talking with this subordinate. Not the best look.

Anyway, to address the issue more directly:

For starters, there is a lot that is unknown here. For one, what stage of life is this person at? A fresh out of college employee will likely have more interest in this than a person near the end of their career who won't see much benefit from this sort of thing before retirement.

You say you want to give them time to work on career growth. However, you don't say you actually give them time, so this is another unknown. If you do give them time, is it enough for the career growth activities? Also, is there enough time left in the week for them to get their regular job done without putting in extra time? If the answers to all these are not "Yes", the employee may not be able (or want) to put in the extra hours needed for this career growth stuff.

From what I'm reading, it seems these career growth activities are at least in part a group project. Maybe they don't feel comfortable in a group - or in this particular group.

Others have mentioned that maybe this person isn't career oriented. Many folks - managers especially - seem to have problems with an employee who isn't interested in "career growth". However, there is nothing wrong with that from a human/humane perspective. Perhaps they get satisfaction by volunteering or through hobbies that they don't get from work.

As alluded to in the first paragraph, perhaps your relationship with this guy isn't good. If so he may not trust that doing this work will lead to anything beneficial to him. I once had a manager promise a big raise if I turned down another job offer, but after I turned the other job down, the raise never came. (I had a third job within a few weeks.)

Similarly, perhaps he doesn't trust the company. For example, I spent years in night school, somewhat pushed by the company I worked for at the time. While they mentioned my more advanced degree in their proposals, I never got more interesting work, a promotion, or raise above the cost-of-living in the couple of years I stayed with them after completing the program.

Possibilities for why someone doesn't want to do something like this are limitless, but I'll finish with what may be the most simple explanation: The person may like the job they are in and doesn't want to "grow" out of it.

1

This employee may not actually be willing to follow up on this, and may not be willing to tell you. Most of the other answers seem to assume this, and provide plenty of good reasons why it might be the case.

Another possibility: the employee may be (very) willing to follow up and find themselves unable to do so. What is more: they may be unable to do so without anyone ever realizing. Kate Gregory's answer mentions a few good reasons how this might happen.

It may be useful to add another perspective: psychology.

People's brains work in different ways. One significant difference is the extent to which people use plans.

At one extreme, you have people who pre-plan and schedule pretty much anything they ever do way ahead of time. They book vacations two years in advance. They expect close friends to schedule visits months in advance. They cannot function at work without detailed written instructions telling everybody what to do, when, and how.

On the other hand, there's people like me, who are completely incapable of making and sticking to plans ahead of time. They lack any awareness of time and deadlines; their schedules are flexible or absent; all attempts to fix deadlines, tasks or appointments in time or into fixed sequences, by themselves or others, stress them out and may leave them unable to function.

I don't want to suggest one is better than the other. Most of us do a bit of both, depending on the task and situation. But generally speaking, people can be placed on a spectrum between planning ahead and flexible. Many factors influence this:

  • Cultural norms and values: in regions with lots of people of Germanic descent (NW Europe, N America), plans, schedules and appointments are highly valued. Most other regions value flexibility more.
  • Personal values: John Cleese has a lecture in which he regards creativity as what may happen once you manage to let go of your plans, schedules and appointments. Some of us value predictability, others value creativity more.
  • Personality: some people are inherently predisposed towards order and predictability, while others are inherently disorderly / more flexible. Various labels in psychology can be linked to this difference, such as executive dysfunction, ADHD, maybe autism.
  • Cognitive development: neurologists and psychologists say planning happens in the prefrontal cortex and tends to develop later than other cognitive functions, with the average male trailing the average female by a couple of years. (If they ever catch up.)
  • Upbringing, education, and training: skills related to being predictable and skills related to being flexible can be trained. Different parents, schools, friends and employers can make a large difference.
  • Present tasks: some jobs or tasks require more planning ahead, others require more flexibility.

All of these factors interact, and together they can produce an enormous difference between the extent to which people value and use plans. Some may routinely expect themselves and others to plan ahead in all areas of their lives, while others may not value planning ahead at all, lack the skills to do so, or even lack the awareness that such a thing is possible.

You may already be aware of this and taking it into consideration. If not, I think this is where to start. Examine this employee's expectations regarding personal growth and planning, examine your own, and figure out the differences.

-1

I would advise knowing better for team members or listening to comments when having events with other departments.

When there were "team building" intradepartmental regular actions before COVID, I was placed in a ghost team. Mind you, I on very friendly terms with the team and one key element.

The activities were not particularly welcomed by me and the others ghost team members, we had already given our private feedback about RH events and our direct bosses listened.

As for myself, I usually prefer doing my advance on my pace and my materials, unless the employer is willing on paying significant non-udemy training.

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