Not Allowed to Learn on the Job

Written By John Sonmez

In this episode, I give my advice on training within work time. Should learning on the job be allowed?

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Full transcript:

John:               Hey, John Sonmez from I got this question about training in work time. This is kind of an interesting one. I’ve gotten a few people that have mentioned things about this. I’ve talked about this a little bit before about my philosophy on this. I think this question highlights a couple of good points I’d like to bring up. I think it could help you in your career.

I’m actually going to avoid the name completely on this one just because this is a pretty sensitive topic. If you asked the question and you’d like me to your name, I can put it in the description but I’m assuming you don’t want your name on this. Anyway, it says, “Hi John, first of all I would like to say how much I enjoy watching your videos on, Pluralsight and listening to you on .NET Rocks!” Well, thank you.

“I currently have a gripe at work which I would like some advice on. I work for a small software company which has 3 dev teams of 4 to 5 people. My role is leader of one of those teams. The issue is training within work time. The company has a policy, not enforced, that any training should not be done within work time and you should be up to date with the technologies the company decides to move forward with. Whether I agree with this or not I respect this and spend many hours training, mainly Pluralsight, in my own time. I have a routine of watching 30 minutes before and after work everyday and usually watch around 2 hours on the weekends plus reading on Holidays.

“The problem is many developers ignore this policy and can spend hours a day reading blogs and watching Pluralsight to learn about the frameworks they’re being asked to develop in. I find this really frustrating as I spend too much of my personal time learning new frameworks/languages only for other to get paid to do the same. This makes me feel really angry and like I just want to stop work and watch training videos myself.

“I can understand that junior devs are allowed leeway in this policy but some of the people taking advantage here have 10, 20-ish years experience compared with my 4. When I raise this issue I just get told we have no choice as they are not going to learn on their own time and this is why I am classed as a senior and they aren’t. I don’t care about titles or the fact that they will be getting paid much more than me. I just find it so unfair. My question is am I being silly? Is this normal? I seem to be the only person who feels cheated around this issue. What can I do to stop myself from feeling so resentful and wanting to leave? Any advice would be great. Keep up the good work.”

I have a lot to say on this one. Well, let me tell you what I’ve always done, my basic philosophy is I’ve always—I’ve sat there at my job and cracked open a book and read it while at work. Now I’ve sat in spend the whole day reading a book and I’ve … The book was not just like some random book, it was a book related to what I’m working on because I believe that part of my job is to figure out how to do my job the best way possible. I could try to fumble my way through a thing because I can’t train at work or I could—and spend hours trying to figure out something that I could just look up and learn properly in order to be able save a whole bunch of time over the course of the project, right?

Someone could tell me, “Oh you need to do that on your own time” in which case my answer is well, no, I’m just going to say no, I’m just going to do it because I’m a professional and I’m going to do my job. My job involves—part of it involves training myself. I just would not accept that as an answer.

In order to be able to do your job efficiently you need to be able to train yourself as well. That might be on company time but you’re going to train yourself on company time no matter what, right? Let’s say that you have this silly policy where you can’t train at company time. So then you need to work on this framework you don’t know anything about. Okay, so then you go and you figure it out, but you can’t look it up in a book, you can’t watch a training video on it, you’ve just got to figure it out or read the documentation on the slide or look things up as you fumble your way through it. You’re still going to be training, you’re going to be learning it and figuring it out. You’re going to be messing it up. You’re going to be wasting time. All this other stuff is going to happen until you do go home and read the book yourself I guess if you’re willing to work for someone for free. I’ve expressed my opinion on that.

Anyway, that’s generally what I’ve done. I’ve never been in trouble for that. No time has some employer and it’s probably because I also have done excellent work for them so no time has an employer come up to me and said, “Oh hey, stop reading that book. You can’t read this book about this thing that you’re working on.” It would be silly. If they did, honestly, I would just quit. I would go find another job first but I would not stay in an environment that did that.

What is my advice to you here? Well, before I give you my advice I do want to say that I commend you on what you’re doing. You should be training on your own. This might seem a little contradictory but you should be spending 30 minutes a day before and after work reading on your own or watching videos or doing all that, you should, you absolutely should because your career is up to you and developing your skills is up to you. You have to take charge of that and you have to do that and it takes more than just working your 9 to 5. If you really want to have an exceptional career and succeed I spend countless hours—even though I spend some time training myself at work like reading, I spend majority of my time training myself outside of work and I still do, I still am constantly listening to books and constantly—I go through probably like 4 to 5 books a month and I’m doing that—obviously all my time belongs to me now, but I did that when I was working for someone else and I recommend that you do that as well which you’re doing already.

As far as this whole on the job training thing honestly I would just totally ignore this. From an employer perspective if someone is so cheap that they won’t train their people they’re asking for it. That’s just ridiculous. You know what I mean? I have employees that work for me and I train them. They say, “Oh, no, no, I’m not going to bill you for them.” I say, “No, bill me for the time that we spent on the phone that I taught you how to do this thing or walked you through this because that is billable time.” That is part of your job. It’s my responsibility to train you. I can have you go and do a job that you don’t know how to do and waste a whole bunch of my time or I can train you to do the job.

I think from an employer perspective they should and they’re really being penny wise and pound foolish if they don’t invest in training. A lot of companies invest in spending thousands of dollars training their employees. This is definitely something that an employer should be doing.

In general I would just say ignore this. If other people are breaking this rule—there’s no honor in sticking to this rule that is designed to take advantage of you. Just break it. Just do it. If they fire you—I didn’t give you this advice if they fire you. No, you have to realize that there’s a risk to that, right? That could happen. But if you’re doing good work, honestly, no one is going to fire you because you’re watching some videos that are teaching you—like if you’re reading some fiction book or something like that or watching cat videos on YouTube they’ll probably—that could constitute something that you shouldn’t be doing at work, but if you’re watching my YouTube videos at work that’s good. I guess that would be questionable, like borderline.

Anyway, just do it. Just do it. That’s my advice to you. Like I said maybe you’ll suffer repercussions but I seriously, seriously doubt it especially if other people are already breaking the rule and yeah, it’s a silly rule to begin with. Don’t be blatant about it. Don’t be like, “Okay, yep, now it’s time for me to watch my Pluralsight videos and do training at work. I’m going to go do that.” Just do it. Do it as you need to and take the time. Heck, come in earlier before anyone else is in to work and start your day a little earlier and leave a little earlier if you have that flexibility and do it when there’s less people around. Don’t make it so obvious, but yeah. That’s what I would do.

If it actually comes down to it, I would find another job, honestly. You’re probably—I don’t know. I don’t like to say this but if you’re in an environment where the company is not willing to invest in at least training their people you might even just start looking now. I don’t know what other issues you probably are facing there but that’s the critical thing. Investing in your employees is really, really important.

Anyway, I don’t mean to open up another can of worms but thanks for the email. I think this is a good question. A lot of people have frequently asked things about this. A lot of people have been shocked to find out that I would be willing to train myself at work, like open up a book during work time. Heck, I would do it. I would recommend anyone do it. If you have an employer that’s smart at all, they’ll realize that they want to hire people that are willing—because most employers won’t even—don’t even care. They won’t even train themselves even if they’re paid on company time to train or paid to train themselves, they still won’t do it. They don’t care. If you’ve got someone that’s willing to do that to invest in their career you should help them for sure.

Anyway, great question. Thanks for sending it. If you have a question for me that you’d like me to answer so that you can get fired email me at and subscribe to this channel. You can watch it at work. You can tell your boss that I told you that you could watch it at work so subscribe and watch my videos while you’re at work. All right, take care.