Earlier today I was discussing training with a coworker. We have differing points of view in that I have some expectations that my employees will take some initiative and learn some things on their own, while he believes we should not have that expectation.

I stated "I enjoy what I do, and am constantly in search of new things to learn and am constantly trying to better myself. I feel as a professional you must do this, instead of claiming your employer doesn't set aside time to train you on everything. If you reach a point where you no longer want to do that you need to consider maybe you're in the wrong place."

Now, it is important to point out that we do provide countless resources to pursue training, and even some designated time to complete assigned curriculum. But I would expect people, who want to further themselves to seize control of their own future and continue learning outside of work

Following my statement our conversation took a slightly hostile turn and the response I received is "not everyone is like you."

That is fair, not everyone is like me. But I want to understand the other point of view. I want to understand because I want to figure out how to motivate people into having the passion that I do. That passion they had a year out of college. I struggle with apathetic attitudes.

How can I relate without sounding as condensending as I did originally? How can I reframe this situation to discover the root cause of the waning motivation?

EDIT Several people are reading this as I expect them to train for hours on end outside of work. That is not the case. I dont want to FORCE them to train outside of work. I want to understand why they stopped learning on their own to begin with. They all had to learn on their own to become employed to begin with. Why would you want to stop learning?

  • 3
    "Passion" is a nebulous thing to ask for, especially if people are already doing good work and get along as a team. Moreover, people go through different stages in life where work takes varying levels of priority. There's are good reasons why a fresh college graduate is going to (superficially) appear more motivated than a mid-career professional with kids.
    – teego1967
    Feb 24, 2015 at 11:20
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    But I would expect people, who want to further themselves to seize control of their own future and continue learning outside of work You make the equation a little too simple. What about spending time with your family, physical activity, pasttimes, etc. Are you suggesting to a parent not to spend time with his kid so he can go do some self training. This perception might lead to a hostile interpretation/response.
    – Brandin
    Feb 24, 2015 at 14:36
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    @Brandin I think you are taking it to the extreme. Personally I have 3 kids with which I spend ample time, I am in the military which is time consuming, and I exercise an hour a day. We have time for what we make time for.
    – Wjdavis5
    Feb 24, 2015 at 15:59
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    @Wjdavis5 I think you are taking it to the extreme Funny you say it is extreme, as I was merely quoting your statement. From your response it seems you can understand the other's point of view. The response you got "Not everyone's like you" is probably just his polite alternative to listing all of the various other things that he'd rather be doing with his kids, the different sports and extra curricular activities that he's involved with that have little or nothing to do with the extra time (1, 2, 3+ hours per day??) of "self training" you have in mind.
    – Brandin
    Feb 24, 2015 at 17:15
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    @Wjdavis5 and there is NOT A DAMN THING WRONG with doing that. Everyone is not like you, not everyone wants to get ahead or has the desire to do well. Are they performing their jobs acceptably? If so then what they do outside of work is none of your business. If you want them to train on the clock , then give them a direct order (you are in the miltary and get away with that there) and treat it like any other insubordination if they don't do it. But stop expecting people to be like you. And stop expecting any work outside of work hours, you don't own these people.
    – HLGEM
    Feb 25, 2015 at 16:08

6 Answers 6


Healthy competition is the magic word you are looking for.

I present you a case study.

A startup had problem with people switching over to git from SVN.And the general issue of people not being motivated about new developments and the inertia towards existing tech..you know the usual human stuff.

Their approach towards it was ingenious ...They introduced a concept of intra organization presentations every 3 months or so and they make (initially) participation of 2 members from each technical branch compulsory.And every body had to attend presentation of their choice at least 3.so their were several presentation going on in parallel and in different time slots every one was required to attend at least three of his choice.

At first people participated because they had too.They gave presentation on topics and people attended because they had too.But when pictures of people who gave presentation came up as posters in office cafeteria and review and feedbacks came ups they became heroes.

so next time they had more voluntary participation and real effort went into making presentations.Gradually what started as a experiment became a rich source of knowledge sharing.

It increased co operation in organization and improved culture as for example if some one had trouble using git will instinctively talk to person who gave presentation on git.

This approach is one which can be used to initiate or get the learning rock rolling within the organization.

Basically you need "right carrot and right stick"

  • Notice how this key part of this is that nothing is being requested or forced outside of "company time". I think that this is the hallmark of the success. The fact that people were still free to carry on their lives how they see fit. Feb 24, 2015 at 9:48
  • Exactly and the toll on companies billing hour is n x half day + preparation time in man hours.
    – amar
    Feb 24, 2015 at 10:10
  • @amar - could you provide a link to this case study? I'd love to explore it more in depth.
    – Wjdavis5
    Feb 24, 2015 at 13:57
  • I don't think the data is available for public consumption i have been part of the thing so i know a bit.
    – amar
    Feb 24, 2015 at 14:04
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    Is this really a "training issue". IMO someone who knows about version control should be able to handle basic GIT usage within a few minutes or at most within an hour. Seems the real issue highlighted here is the "human issues" you elude to (lack of motivation, inertia, we've been using X for so long, etc.). For getting your team to switch from tech_1 to tech_2, "training" is not the right keyword. And obviously spending time out of work is not going to solve the human problems either.
    – Brandin
    Feb 24, 2015 at 14:48

I have quoted your original conversation and added emphasis on some key words that could be considered problematic in eliciting change in someone else:

I stated "I enjoy what I do, and am constantly in search of new things to learn and am constantly trying to better myself. I feel as a professional you must do this, instead of claiming your employer doesn't set aside time to train you on everything. If you reach a point where you no longer want to do that you need to consider maybe you're in the wrong place."

Surrounding contentious phrases with "I feel" and "maybe" pretends to soften the harshness of the phrase without really softening it. You are baldly stating that professionals are constantly learning outside of work hours, and that anyone who doesn't do that isn't a professional and are quite likely a bad match for the company you work for. When you examine the words you say, is it surprising you had a chilly response?

I don't disagree with your thesis that people need to constantly learn new things to adapt to the ever-changing work landscape, but it's unrealistic to require everyone to do this outside of normal work hours.

If the values of your company include compassion for their employees, giving them time for independent study/research in addition to (or instead of) formal training, or even letting employees "learn as they go" - by letting them dip their toes into unfamiliar work as part of their regular duties - and also understanding that a learning curve will extend schedules, and giving them permission to fail when they are learning, I think, will provide an environment that will nurture careers.

Expecting people to put in a full week at the office and then spend hours of their time off the clock in service to their job is unrealistic and detrimental to the other parts of their life, and will foster resentment in the long run.

Edited to add I've been thinking about how you can phrase your initial thesis in a less confrontational way, and have come up with this:

I have noticed that people who keep learning throughout their lives tend to have more successful careers because they can more easily adapt to constantly changing technology.

You can then back that statement up with examples in your company (or elsewhere), or you can then go into a discussion with the other person about what learning methods are best for different situations or learning styles. It's also describing a benefit to the learner ("more successful career") instead of talking about yourself (a key point in sales techniques).


You cannot make other people have passion. It sounds as if your team and you are opposites and that is not going to change. You need to:

  • accept that and work with them as they are,
  • fire them and hire people who are more acceptable to you,
  • or move on to somewhere that has people with more passion.

Now if they had passion and it is now gone, then there is likely a cause. If you are their manager, it is very possible that cause is you and how you treat them. Or it could be the cultural message the organization sends them that they are unimportant cogs that are as easily replaced as the furniture and are thus focused on looking for a new job, not on this one.

Or it could be that they are having life problems (sick child, dying spouse, divorce, etc.) and work is not their current first priority. People only have so much energy to spend, if it is being directed elsewhere, training is not high on their list of things to do right now. As you go through life there are times when you are passionate and times when that just takes too much energy. If you have never dealt with a serious life problem, you may not understand how draining it is to daily watch your spouse get worse knowing he is going to die soon. Sometimes these situations go on for years unresolved. But because you have a sick child or are going through a bitter divorce, should you lose your job too? When your performance is acceptable and all that is lacking is a desire to better your skills? There are times when promotion and advancement are very much the last thing you need or want at work.

Personally I would hate a manager who thought I had to spend my time training outside of work. People have families that need care and time, they should NEVER be expected to put in time outside of work. If you want to and have the LUXURY of time then fine. And yes that is liekly to make the person one of the better choices for promotion. But to expect it is unreasonable and indicates to me that you are not management material.

If they are not doing self-directed training during work hours, that is something different. But have you bothered to ask them why they are not? Are the time pressures to get the current work such that they do not have time or energy for this? Is the training as useless as much self-directed training is? Maybe they would do better in a classroom environment.

People have different styles of learning. Have you consulted them on the type of training they learn best from? Have you asked them what they want to learn about or need to learn? Have you talked to them at all as if they are people who have their own ideas, needs and values? It sounds to me as if you have assumed everyone should be like you and that you automatically disrespect anyone who is not.

And how pertinent is this training? Training on a subject I will be using right away is far more interesting to me than stuff I will hear and forget because I have no reason to use it. So maybe instead of complaining about their lack of passion, you should set up a training course the week before a project using those techniques kicks off. And make sure it is clear in the training exactly how they will be expected to use this during the upcoming project.

Next not everyone is interested in getting to the next level. It is ok to be comfortable where you are. Less than 1% will make it to the top. Should we consider everyone else to be a throw-away? If their performance in their current job is good, then leave them alone unless the training is needed for something they will be doing.

This idea that everyone should have passion and be motivated to learn all sorts of new things just because is wrong-headed and bad ultimately for our industry. It is elitist and short-sighted. In the real world, I have often seen it result is poor software choices because the passion to learn turns into the passion to try every new tool that comes along in a hodge-podge mess of junk. It turns into trying new things becausue they are new and not using perfectly good things becasue they are old and boring. Everyone is not in the top 1% and everyone never will be. And all tasks do not require someone in the top 1%. In fact very few workplaces actually need this type of person. SO not everyone needs to have the passion of a top 1% person. And not every passionate person is passionate in the right direction or has the ability harness their passion effectively.

Training should be focused on what they need for work. Passion is a nice to have but, by far, not a requirement. I would rather have solid devs who know their stuff and produce the product than 1 overly passionate person who is always chasing after the next best thing. (This kind of person can wreak havoc on a code base in his chase for new and exicting tools to use.)

Another thing you need to consider is cultural. If your devs come from a different culture than you do, they may be less willing to do things on their own because that is not what is rewarded in their culture. In working with people from many different cultures, I have found that there are many assumptions we make because of our culture that are not true for people in other cultures.

  • I agree with most of this answer, but disagree strongly with the assertion that motivation is only for the 1%. Yes, people can get overzealous in their love for new things. But the OP is talking about someone who believes that they need to do no work on their own to even maintain their skills. "Passion" certainly isn't required, but basic engagement should be.
    – Telastyn
    Feb 24, 2015 at 15:50

Well this is a tricky one , in all honesty i tend to label "passion" and "masking unconscious incompetence by working long hours" into a single bucket. For some funny reason management types tend to see someone who regularly works 56/60 hour weeks as a hard worker and not as someone who is actually good at their job even though they are no more productive than those peers who work a regular week.

Performing professional development is a separate task to being passionate about the subject matter . More often than not its the need to know a certain language , feature or library that drives developers to learn it. As for practice "outside of hours" that's up to a individual person. If you want people,to learn specific skills then you should pay them for the time required to study, just like any engineering field. If there are knowledge gaps then put time aside to study, if there are significant issues with a poor quality engineer then you might need that intervention. If you have a knowledgeable, disciplined, high quality engineer then they often you are barking up the wrong tree if you need them to spend their time outside work. In the event that there is a skill gap ( such as a new language required for a given project ) then you will find that they definitely can swim when thrown into the deep end.

Really we still have a extremely young and immature field ( software development ) in the broader scope of engineering, which is really the reason why a lot of what goes on actually goes on with personnel. I mean if you have a engineer designing a bridge and you ask if they tested their design I'm pretty sure that you would be completely shocked if their response was "yeah, I jumped on a few points, after they built it, seems capable of having semi trailers drive over it ) and if that was the case you would be sending them to school to study rather than asking them to "self directed study"..

For me personally if you want me to spend time on something then you should be paying me for it. The fact that I spend my weekends building robots, or watching tv, drinking beer, or programming is really none of your business,

The mark of a true professional is arriving at 8:59 am and leaving at 5:01, and having all of their work completed to a extremely high quality, on time, tested and documented.

  • Thank you for this post. My philsophy on success measure by time can be seen on my blog. wjdavis5.blogspot.com/2012/06/success-as-measured-by-time.html That being said I dont want them to spend time outside of work per-se. I want them to be motivated by technology and learn new things. They complained we didnt train them, so we setup training that is self-driven, when the ball was in their court, they refused to use it. Now we are going to mandate it, and we are being met with frustrations about telling them they have to.
    – Wjdavis5
    Feb 24, 2015 at 13:48
  • @Wjdavis5 I am assuming you are new to having staff below you ? Feb 24, 2015 at 15:39
  • No not really, why do you ask?
    – Wjdavis5
    Feb 24, 2015 at 15:50
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    Because I re-read this thread and your original post and I just get the vibe that you are extremely new to managing people, the first red flag is that you suggest that people work "outside of hours" ( even if it's"just training" ) one should be promoting "work/life balance" a little bit more, I'm also getting this vibe that there might be some morale or resentment issues in the background here. If their workload allows for training time then simply tell people to train during that time of it doesn't then you might need to reallocate resources to allow for this. Feb 24, 2015 at 16:32
  • If you have staff sitting there on reddit or Facebook all day then you need to lock down the network a little bit, and bang , there is time to do the training you have to consider is if there is actually time to do said training . If people are slacking off then you have to cut into their paid leisure time without letting them become cranky about it. Feb 24, 2015 at 16:37

Some work to live

Some live to work

Different horses for different courses.

You cannot force a person to be one way or the other.

Also some people are happy are just happy turning up and doing the same job every day.

Please do not impose your values on others.


Working extra hours and trying to learn more is not necessarily a display of passion or a love of what someone does. It could mean they're afraid of losing their job or they want to make more money and be able to find a better paying one due to their larger skill set.

I happen to like what I do (programmer) and do learn things on off hour in areas that are not related to my job, but there are other things I enjoy. I take time to read, play music, watch movies, cook, and spend time with friends and family. A perfect day just like a perfect meal isn't just comprised of the one thing I like the most. I prefer variety. I'm not good at repeating the same thing over and over. Sometimes I need a break.

Could one argue that the reason you continue to do work-related things after hours is because you didn't give it everything you've got during the day? If you did, you would be too exhausted to want to do more. Of course, that's an equally bad argument.

Have a conversation with people and share your passion. Some will do the same and some won't. They may learn new things that peaks their curiosity and makes them want to go and learn more. You may find that the people who don't are still able to do their job just as well. Preferring to spend time with their kids is not an indication they don't love what they do. Looks can be very deceiving when it comes to things like measuring someone's passion or love of what they do.

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