Training & Development

Promotion of Voluntary Employee Development Programs

Continuous employee development is imperative in order to maintain a competitive edge in today’s constantly changing business environment. Although many organizations realize this need, employees may be reluctant to voluntarily participate in development programs – this may be because the employee does not see the need for development, does not know about development opportunities, does not feel necessary resources/means are available to participate, etc. So how can organizations encourage employees to participate in these voluntary programs without making participation feel mandatory?

Factors Related to Voluntary Participation

Many factors influence employee willingness to participate in development opportunities, including:
  • Availability of activities – It is important for employees’ to not only have opportunities for participation, but also have multiple options for participation.  Simply offering a variety of development opportunities and making these opportunities known is crucial to employee involvement. Although this seems somewhat rudimentary, many organizations fail to advertise and publicize development opportunities, which can reduce participation.
  • Attitudes and intentions to participate – Employees who believe that development opportunities will be pleasant and worthwhile are more likely to participate. Additionally, if the development will have some utility or future benefit to the individual they may be more likely to participate.
  • Subjective norms – Norms and expectations established by other individuals in the organization, both supervisors and peers, can affect an employee’s desire to participate in development opportunities. Additionally, others’ opinions about a specific development opportunity can influence an individuals’ willingness to participate (i.e. coworker has participated in development and discusses their positive/negative experience with another coworker).
  • Perceived control and support – Employees must feel as though they have control over whether or not they participate in development. Allowing employees to choose development opportunities can not only encourage participation but can also increase engagement in the development program. Additionally, the perceived support from the organization, supervisor and peers can be important. This can include:
    • Monetary compensation – Company pays for development or rewards the individual monetarily for completing the development program (i.e. pay raise, bonus, etc.).
    • Fostering an organizational climate that encourages development – Company policies and procedures support, reward and recognize employee development. This could include formal recognition of the employee, first choice on work projects or informally acknowledging employees’ efforts.
  • Reactions to employee development – An individual’s opinion about a specific development opportunity can also impact willingness to participate in future programs. Positive development experiences in the past will influence the desire to participate in the future. Therefore, both the perception of the training itself AND the perception of trainings in the past can influence employees’ willingness to participate.

Practical Implications

Organizations offering voluntary development opportunities should keep in mind that it is important to:
  • Offer a wide variety of quality trainings employees perceive as beneficial and applicable to their job. Employee surveys could be a useful mean in determining what employees perceive as valuable.
  • Make these development opportunities known to employees. This can be done through advertising and should make the utility and applicability of the development clear, as well as illustrate how the organization will support the employee.
  • Ensure employees are rewarded for their participation (whether it be monetary or recognition) as many times employees are devoting time and effort, above and beyond their normal work duties and responsibilities, to participate in the development.
Organizations that develop a culture and climate that values high quality development could gain a positive reputation with not only their employees, but also other organizations and individuals, which could ultimately also give the organization a competitive edge recruiting employees. Therefore, the organizational benefits of active employee development could extend beyond advancing employee knowledge and should be utilized to the fullest.

Interpretation by:

Elizabeth Allen

The DeGarmo Group

This was a summary of the research and practice implications from: Hurtz, G. & Williams, K. (2009). Attitudinal and Motivational Antecedents of Participation in Voluntary Employee Development Activities. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94 (3). 635-653.