Employers Have an Obligation to Continuously Educate/Improve Their Employees

I made this statement in a meeting today, and I fully believe it to be true. If you are not constantly trying to improve your workforce (for their benefit, and for yours) then you are doing them a disservice – and you are failing your company.

The most rewarding (personally and professionally) positions I have ever held were with companies that honestly believed they had a responsibility to educate, and to challenge their employees.

One of the low points in my management career is when I let an employee go that I had NOT made a proper effort to train/educate improve. I let many employees go through downsizing, etc – but only this one stands out as an employee I “failed” – and I did. I let him go without properly preparing him for the event – since I never questioned his work, never tried to improve or educate him.

As a manager, I failed him.

That was almost ten years ago, and it still bothers me. Even though I know the experience I got from that – what *I* learned from it – has made me a better manager today.

Fortunately this ex employee and I have remained friends, and we still chat frequently. He also realized he wasn’t living up to his potential.

But it wasn’t his job to read my mind – it was my job to expand his.

I failed him. And I learned from it.


  1. Rob,

    There is one company, if it can be called that, that regularly requires their employees to stay on top of the latest developments. It’s not unusual for the employees to go for a day, a weekend, or a week. This company doesn’t require this but the employees spend a lot of their own time and dollars learning everything they can to better themselves everyday. Even during their down time, they are constantly going to workshops. They, the employees, do this because they want to be the most effect in their field. They, the employees, do this all the time.

    What company am I talking about? Well, the company is a school district and the employees are the teachers. Teaching is a year round job and no we don’t get June, July, and August off. That’s just a myth. The expectations for teachers to be effect and excel in their field is unreal and yes, I’m nutz for wanting to be one but hey, teachers are born, not made.

  2. deannie says:

    Ahh…expectations. That is a whole different ball of wax, isn’t it?

    I appreciate your ability to maintain relationships and grow from these sorts of experiences.

  3. @Deannie – good point. In this case both the company and myself offered promises of continued education.

    But that isn’t really what I am talking about in this post – I am talking of the informal mentoring agreement that I had with employees.

    And even more than that – my failure to quickly and/or adequately correct behavior that wasn’t living up to my own expectations – expectations I never made clear to this employee – behavior I never corrected until it was too late to do so.

  4. Well, one additonal thought to this conversation: There are companies that make ongoing education a selling point to joining their company. When a company makes such a promise & subsequently reneges, that is a problem. You lose trust and respect for the maker of such empty promises. And need vodka (beer?!? Meh…).

    While we each are responsible for our own fate, it is not okay to toy with your employees in matters of promised ongoing education.

  5. (Funny, how I always seem to manage to work the word ‘beer’ into a conversation …)

  6. ‘s okay .. you and I … we just need a beer … is all.

  7. @Paul – as usual, you are correct.

    @Timothy – My apology – I completely misunderstood what you wrote and reacted (this is hard to believe!) – without fully thinking about my response.

    I guess I was cranky last night. It happens this time of year when the Spurs are no longer in the running and the NFL won;t start for months!

  8. Btw, in addition to the ‘Peter principle’, which states that otherwise competent people are being promoted to higher and higher positions, until they reach their ‘level of incompetency’, there is also the ‘Dilbert principle’, that states that incompetent employees are intentionally promoted to prevent them from doing harm.
    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dilbert_Principle

    I have seen both principles at work MANY times.
    These aren’t just principles, they appear to be LAWS 😉

  9. @Rob,
    Wow, that’s an overly sharp and uncalled-for ad hominem attack on someone (Timothy) you perceive as disagreeing with you.

    You also appear to miss Timothy’s point entirely.

    He is NOT argueing, as you have him, that people should not develop their skillsets or that improvements should not be rewarded.

    You both totally agree that an employee should develop its skills, and only disagree on who is responsible for that.

    And on the risk of being call absolutely wrong and delusional I have to say I’m squarly with Timothy on this one!

    While I do see the economical benefits for a company to keep their staff well trained, I also find that a company hiring me can and should expect of me that I keep ‘ahead of the curve’ and update my skills as needed. That’s MY responsibility as an employee.
    A manager’s most important task is to make sure his people can do their jobs in the most optimum way possible, by shielding them from otherwise distracting activities (like for instance the idiotic notion of having them fill out time sheets!).

    The idea of a manager as a mentor is a deeply flawed one. Sometimes it may be NECESSARY for a manager to ‘mentor’ certain employees, but that’s then to make up for a mistake he already has made: hiring the wrong person.

    In a nutshell: my manager can tell me what to do, not how.

    Now, go get those pesky sales guys off my back, will ya? Do your job!

    Btw, in my 30+ year experience, it’s usually the MANAGER who’s ‘standing still’ when it comes to skillset expansion, which is a well known phenomenon, called the ‘Peter principle’ … look it up! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_principle

  10. @Timothy – I strongly disagree with you. If you are a manager, and you are not constantly improving your workforce you will be constantly _replacing_ your workforce. That is an economic model for failure.

    It is *much* cheaper to train and improve existing employees than it is to hire “replacements”.

    Per your argument, a new college hire would never expect to develop new skills – or if they did, they would not be rewarded for the additional skills.

    Sorry – but you are absolutely wrong here. If you are hiring people for the skill-set they have TODAY, then I hope you are running an assembly line where all you expect them to do is put the same bolt in the same place for the next 30 years.

    Otherwise you are just delusional.

  11. I disagree with this assertion. It might be a perk for a company to provide training, but it isn’t their obligation or duty. This stems back to the concept of ‘you owe me’… They owe you nothing! They hire you for your skills, you provide them a service for an agreed price. That’s it. You either continue to update your skills or you don’t, at your own peril. If you don’t continue to update your skills and therefore become irrelevant, they replace you with someone who has those skills.

    Thank you,

    Timothy McDoniel