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It's obvious, though, for example, that you shouldn't try to learn Photoshop on your financial firm's time (unless they assigned you a job to design something for them, though that's unlikely).

The general answer for this is probably no - it's wrong to use their time and money for one's benefit. But some circumstances may call for it, right?

For this question, let's assume that you have completed the tasks for the day (although most likely, you could start tomorrow's work... but then again, there really isn't such a thing as absolute completion).

I've seen some questions here about people's employers unable or (dare I say) unwilling to provide training even if the training would benefit the company.

So, is it alright then, to do some learning to improve oneself, on company time, even for the company's benefit (again, because your employer is unable or unwilling to provide means for your professional advancement)?

No, we haven't ignored or we don't refuse anything else the company might provide.

To complicate things: What if your boss says "no, don't learn that because that's not and never going to be how we do things here?" If you don't, you'd be following instructions, though you could be sacrificing your marketability.

This is NOT a duplicate question How can I approach career development with a boss who doesn't seem to support this?. The answers there don't address whether or not it's alright to sneak personal professional development into some company time. For the most part, the answers suggest that it is ultimately the worker's responsibility. So now, if so, then is it alright to use some company time to exercise that responsibility? That's my question.

closed as off-topic by IDrinkandIKnowThings, gnat, user9158, scaaahu, Lilienthal Oct 14 '15 at 10:34

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Real questions have answers. Rather than explaining why your situation is terrible, or why your boss/coworker makes you unhappy, explain what you want to do to make it better. For more information, click here." – Community, scaaahu, Lilienthal
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    "...you shouldn't try to learn Photoshop on your financial firm's time. " Wouldn't that depend on why you're learning Photoshop? If you are responsible for editing pictures for a brochure or web site, I would think learning Photoshop on the company's time is perfectly acceptable. – GreenMatt Oct 9 '15 at 14:37
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    In some industries, it's expected that you continuously teach yourself new things! In software development, for example, learning new technologies is regularly a part of large projects. – Kevin - Reinstate Monica Oct 9 '15 at 16:39
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    But you are not sacrificing your marketability. Your boss did not say don't learn that. He said don't use company time. You can chose to learn new skills on your own time. Try and pick a skill that is a clear benefit to the company to get an OK to use (some) company time. – paparazzo Oct 9 '15 at 17:41
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    "It's wrong to use their time and money for one's benefit." Well, the company is using my time for their benefit so... – limdaepl Oct 10 '15 at 7:29
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    @limdaepl - I agree 110%. My biggest issue is that they think it's "I win, they lose", though I sincerely feel it's a win-win. – Mickael Caruso Oct 10 '15 at 12:55
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I think it comes down to company expectation. In the oil industry it is not uncommon for cranes to sit for weeks without being called for a lift and in general the only expectation is that the operator is there and ready when called upon. I know of a crane operator who learned several languages while sitting in his cab waiting to be called upon. This would be a sharp contrast to the restaurant industry where the mantra is "if you have time to lean, you have time to clean".

The best individual answer for you is going to come from your boss. If you ask first you won't have to apologize for making a wrong assumption.

To address the edit: The answers there don't address whether or not it's alright to sneak personal professional development into some company time.

Your employer has the option of determining what you do on company time. If they say they don't want you spending time on learning accounting or the next big framework that is a reasonable constraint, the same as if they said they don't want you developing your career as a pro video game player. They are paying for your time so they get to decide how their investment is spent.

Sneaking in things that they have already shot down is a good way to ruin things for everyone. If you get caught a likely response from the company is more beaurocracy around training approval meaning that all training for everyone is harder to get. Don't be that guy.

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    Yeah, back in college I had a job where 90% of the job was simply being in the room--they didn't want to have $100k of computers sitting there by an open door and nobody around. If someone needed help I was there but mostly it was just doing my schoolwork while getting paid. – Loren Pechtel Oct 10 '15 at 1:58
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    Reminds me of Albert Einsten, whose theories were developed in his free time when working in a pattent office... – Marc.2377 Oct 10 '15 at 19:13
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    @Marc.2377 that should almost be an answer in itself! – Ernest Friedman-Hill Oct 11 '15 at 18:49
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Why not both? Do things that benefit you and the company.

The general answer for this is probably no - it's wrong to use their time and money for one's benefit. But some circumstances may call for it, right?

This is a logical fallacy.

It's implying that either you OR the company get benefit or your work. So if you benefit, the company doesn't.

A good goal for employees is to continuously do things that maximize benefit to both them and the company. You want to do things that develop you as well as add value to the company. The better this works, the better your career will be.

It's obvious, though, for example, that you shouldn't try to learn Photoshop on your financial firm's time (unless they assigned you a job to design something for them, though that's unlikely).

Let's look at this example. If you phrase it like, "I want to learn mad Photoshop skilz" then yeah, it's not great.

But what if you presented it like:

  • "Hey boss, I was noticing that our communications are really low quality. Our team creates a lot of documents that don't look that great. I've wanted to learn Photoshop for a while - would you support me doing this so we can make our communications more professional?"

Win-win!


There will be industries that have more slack time. Some consulting companies, for example, have downtime between contracts. You can do the above then too, just phrased more like, "I would love to do X in the future, we have a bit of a downtime now, what do you think about me spending some time learning X? It'll add value to me and let us do Y/Z in the future."

  • My problem is that I see it as a win-win, but my supervisors see it as I win, they lose. I can't be too specific, but they think that what I want to learn may apply to my profession in general, but doesn't apply to the company. Sorry for venting out, but it's a dire issue for me. – Mickael Caruso Oct 9 '15 at 17:17
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    ...please don't use Photoshop to create textual documents. – Yamikuronue Oct 9 '15 at 21:27
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    @MickaelCaruso Then if you can't phrase it in such a way that makes them see it as a win-win..... I'd say you shouldn't do it. They TOLD you you shouldn't. It's pretty clear at that point, no? – Patrice Oct 9 '15 at 21:50
  • @MickaelCaruso then what I wrote here means you are doing that wrong. It's not just "seeing it as win-win" but it's communicating that it's win-win to your supervisors. – enderland Oct 9 '15 at 22:05
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    @Yamikuronue Photoshop does a much better job of handling the kerning for all of the Papyrus font work the documents need. – Cort Ammon Oct 10 '15 at 20:15
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Definitely YES

If the learning would benefit your career and help you perform better at your role, then it is definitely ethical to learn after your work (or in your free time).

But, if it is for your own benefit which does not benefit the company, then NO.

For example, if I am a data scientist:

Can I learn data science technologies like Spark in my spare time or after work <-- YES

Can I learn photoshop? <-- NO It doesn't help you improve at your current role. You might want to do it at home.

  • This is incorrect - Nobody can predict the future nor what skills may be learned that can be transferred to the current role. – Ed Heal Oct 10 '15 at 9:35
  • @EdHeal I have to disagree. Nobody can predict the future ** YES **nor what skills may be learned that can be transferred to the current role. PARTIALLY YES. But, I guess there is a definite line which can be drawn to say whether the skill is important for the skill or no. For example, photography skill is definitely not useful for a programming career. So, learning it at office, is wrong. – Dawny33 Oct 10 '15 at 9:41
  • You are correct - my comment should have a clause within reason. However, photography may be useful skill for a web developer to learn?! – Ed Heal Oct 10 '15 at 9:43
  • - PS - Read up about TRIZ – Ed Heal Oct 10 '15 at 9:44
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As long as you aren't using up non-trivial consumables, are getting your work done, and are not interfering with the operation/competitiveness of your employer, you absolutely are justified in performing self-directed career development activities whenever you can get away with it.

MANY successful people got their start when they were bored at work and decided to do something about it. These folks usually do NOT "ask for permission" from their boss to do things like trying out an idea by way of a prototype, some writing, calculations or a design, or business plan. Smart bosses see this as initiative.

Just do it-- you probably won't get fired unless they want to get rid of you anyway and need a reason.

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    I like to think that the saying "It is easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission" with this whole thing. Yes, I have slipped a lot of modern practices into our company because I see how effective and efficient they are. My boss doesn't like it and specifically told me that "it's not the way we do things here, you work for this company, not for the profession." This isn't the end. I have to learn as long as I meet my objectives. – Mickael Caruso Oct 13 '15 at 13:05
  • @MickaelCaruso, that's right, this is a long game. Your boss won't always be your boss. Nor is he necessarily interested in developing talent. Your career is in your hands. – teego1967 Oct 13 '15 at 13:36
  • This. I started to teach myself how to program (which has since led to a career) when I was bored at work. I kept thinking, "Why am I doing these tasks? A computer could do them so much faster". Within 2-3 months, I was writing scripts (hacky, terrible scripts, in retrospect) that were helping the company out, and my boss gave me a 50% raise. – Joe Smentz Oct 13 '15 at 16:18
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Many modern jobs are more project based than time based, but it's ultimately up to your employer. I would say it it all right if you're getting things done and if you're doing company things on your time. The lines of being "on the job" can get blurry.

I recall a lawyer saying, "If you're in the shower thinking about a client, it's billable."

This should open a dialog with your boss so you can find out what her expectations are and possible additional things you can learn to benefit the company and hopefully help your career as well.

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So, is it alright then, to do some learning to improve oneself, on company time, even for the company's benefit (again, because your employer is unable or unwilling to provide means for your professional advancement)?

If you ask your boss for permission to "do some learning on company time" and you get consent, then it is perfectly alright to proceed with your learning.

To complicate things: What if your boss says "no, don't learn that because that's not and never going to be how we do things here?" If you don't, you'd be following instructions, though you could be sacrificing your marketability.

That doesn't complicate things at all - they become extremely simple in this case.

In this case, you have been expressly forbidden from spending company time learning. In this case if you value your job you will not do so. Instead, learn on your own time.

Easy.

  • It's easy because they told me straight up not on company time. But that is my struggle. I have very little time for learning outside work. – Mickael Caruso Oct 10 '15 at 13:05
  • I do find some time, albeit inadequate, but I take it. – Mickael Caruso Oct 11 '15 at 11:37
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There was an ethics class where I mentioned hiding things as a symptom something is wrong in a relationship--not that we should openly do bad things, but the question of whether something is done without the faintest attempt to hide it; if you're hiding your dealings with another from your spouse, that's a red flag. You are not obligated to catalogue every interaction with every person you meet, but if you start hoping or acting so that your spouse doesn't learn of certain interactions, there's probably something wrong.

There are some kinds of legitimate secrets to hold--a surprise birthday party, for instance, but then the question comes of, "What if the other person found out?" If despite your best efforts your spouse finds you were attempting to orchestrate a nice surprise birthday party for them, they will unlikely be furious. A hair of the wrong color on your collar is a slightly different matter.

The professor suggested that secrecy / hiding / withholding information is a noteworthy red flag not just in relationships but in ethics in general.

I don't think you need to get explicit approval for every self-training, but I would try to be on the same page as your employer. This could mean no self-training, but if you are doing all your work, many bosses will see self-training on top of that as increasing your value to the company. So don't sneak it and feel guilty; ask your boss about general expectations and self-train in ways where you are on the same page as your boss.

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Different companies have different cultures about how acceptable this is. However, if your current boss has directly told you not to learn something on company time, then you are at risk of being fired if you do so. Once a boss has forbidden an action, then don't do it. You say you view it as a win-win, but clearly your boss does not and his opinion matters more than yours as far as what you spend your time on at work. If you genuinely think it is a win for the company then make the business case, but the boss is the final decider and you need to accept that gracefully if he decides against what you want.

Find something acceptable to your boss to do during down time. It might be a language that you need more depth in that the company currently uses. It might be creating a proposal for some new system you would like to implement. It might be learning more about the business domain. It might be cleaning out old file cabinets! The company owns your time during the work day, it's their choice what they want to pay for.

If you want to get qualified for things your company does not use or intend to use, then do that on your own time. It is the same as if I decided I wanted to be a doctor, you wouldn't expect my current company to pay for a qualification like that that they get no direct benefit from would you? Learning a tool that they don't use is useless to them and they are entitled to decide not to pay for it. There are always things you can learn that will help in your current job.

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  • Is there something else you could usefully do in your current (or similar) role such as perhaps helping a colleague. "Finding something to do" work, essentially?

  • Is there something else you could do to benefit the company, such as learn a useful related technology or skill?

  • When asking your manager if there's anything further he'd like you to do, what was his response?

  • Can you find anything useful to do: review documents, vacuum the hall, clean the kitchen?

If you've answered no to all the above, then you truly have nothing useful to provide the company at the present time and I wouldn't see a problem with doing something non-company-related: however you shouldn't just do this off your own back.

Go and discuss it with your manager, explain the situation and ask how he'd like you to use your time: charity or open source work, for example. If he still has no response, ask if you can undertake some personal projects.

Even then, I'd still try to avoid making money on someone else's time: can you find a personal development project which has a soft benefit to you (learning a skill you may find useful later, learning a foreign language, researching interesting technology etc) and if possible a potential benefit to the employer.

Try to avoid tasks that would directly make you money.

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