Training on personal time: “The whole notion is absurd”

At the Training Directors Forum in Phoenix last June, two questions were put to the training specialists. One question concerned field reps who were reluctant to take laptop-based training (developed by a company, to the tune of a million dollars US.)

The company’s training director said the reps preferred devoting their 50- to 60-hour work weeks to selling and “don’t want to train during their time off.”

A second question focussed on unions and the concern of a training manager for a municipal government that sooner or later trainees will say no to online learning on their own time. “When you start asking people to do this without reward or compensation for the time, I do believe someone is going to challenge us.”


What surprised me is that HR practitioners and training specialists would even consider this an issue. Where do companies get off expecting employees to train on their own time? The whole notion is absurd.

Even with an accompanying bonus or overtime compensation, employees do not have the time. Corporations should not even consider making such a ridiculous demand. How dare they?

Work-based training done during off-hours is a very unsettling trend. However, judging from the forum in Phoenix, it almost seems to be a given that in the U.S. employer-required training will be done on an employee’s own time.

Americans work longer hours, have fewer holidays and enjoy fewer benefits than probably any other developed nation. Granted, they pay lower taxes but they also get considerably less in terms of social benefits.

Unfortunately, all too often trends that start in the U.S. are transplanted to Canada.

Are Canadian training managers still wondering whether there is a benefit in asking employees to give up their personal time, in order to complete employer-required training?

Training vs. professional development

It is important to note that the focus here is training, as opposed to professional or personal development. Professional and personal development are usually based on formal education.

As a result of professional-development courses, an employee may move towards a master’s degree, certification or some form of professional accreditation in which the employee benefits as much as, if not more than, the company.

Training, on the other hand, is learning to do your job more efficiently. The overall objective of training is to improve the company’s bottom line and incidentally it may make you a better employee.

It doesn’t really matter whether you’re talking about American or Canadian or German workers. The fact is that today’s employees are pressed, stretched, squeezed and stressed beyond belief.

The last thing they need when they get home is more work. When do the groceries get bought? The housework get done? The bills get paid? The children get read to? When does the employee get a chance to do those few small things that feed his soul?

Several studies in the ’80s showed that workaholics are in fact considerably less productive and a great deal less inventive and creative than employees who are living balanced lives.

The sales people referred to at the forum were already putting in 50- to 60-hour work weeks. Presumably they were making or surpassing their sales targets. Maybe the training director should be questioning whether they even need the expensive training. Maybe the company should just hire more sales people and let everyone work a productive, concentrated work week with normal pressures.

As for unionized employees, one can only wonder why this issue was not addressed during their last round of contract negotiations.

Either offer training during normal work hours or compensate adequately for taking someone’s private time. People are employees — not indentured servants.

I recall seeing the results of a survey in the mid ’90s (during the heart of the layoff wave) which asked employees how they would like to be rewarded for overtime, best practices and being employee of the month. The overwhelming response was time off — an afternoon, a morning. This was significantly more important than money. And things like plaques, certificates, T-shirts and ball caps weren’t even considered in the realm of reward.

Improve quality of life

Finally, this begs a question: Why would HR practitioners and training departments set themselves up to be resented (at best) by the very employees whose needs they should be putting first? Training is one area that should focus on what is best for the employee.

Steve Barger, a retired senior vice-president of Citibank, said, in a presentation at the forum, that “company loyalty is dead. The objective of training must be to improve quality-of-life for individuals. Trainers must centre training on the end-user and performer, not on the company and its bottom line.

“Translate corporate agendas into end users’ quality of life. As the end-user gets better, the company wins.” Obviously, the people who raised the training questions at the open session didn’t catch Mr. Barger’s presentation.

Stealing employees’ downtime, their family time, their personal time is absolutely the worst way to go about improving their quality of life. Shame on the training professionals for even raising the issue.

Frances Manning is a vice-president at Innova Solutions Inc., an HR-consulting firm based in Ottawa. She can be reached at (613) 834-6121 or [email protected]

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