Workplace etiquette -- how to gracefully decline free training when it costs my sanity?
September 7, 2011 8:04 AM   Subscribe

Professional etiquette: I think "free informational webinars" are a waste of time. My supervisor frequently recommends that we attend one or another. Do I look insubordinate or unambitious if I speak my mind?

I work in IT, in the public sector. Our training budget is pretty wan these days. My supervisor and others in the department forward notices about "free informational webinars" fairly frequently, with recommendations to register and pass the news up if we do so.

After sitting through a number of these sessions conducted by various hosts, I've concluded that they're basically a waste of my time -- aside from one sponsored by Google that was heavy on useful information and light on follow-ups from sales reps, they have pretty much seemed like volunteering to be subject to a hard-sell of some kind or another. I hate sitting through content-free PowerPoint slides and I hate dodging phone calls from vendors for weeks afterwards.

I've got another one of these email invitations helpfully forwarded by my boss, who is eager to see us sign up. Reading through the description, it looks like 100% marketing to me. Is it likely to reflect poorly on me if I just shrug this crap off? I will add that I am the only employee in my particular corner of the IT department that is actually availing myself of our employer's online training contract, and I'm also pursuing an MCTS on my own time, so it's not like I'm not actively learning new things.
posted by trunk muffins to Work & Money (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you can recommend an alternative, possibly free (or low-cost) resource for your boss and co-workers to take advantage of, that would probably help in stating your case.
posted by xingcat at 8:06 AM on September 7, 2011

Bosses do things for a lot of reasons. Does your supervisor believe that free informational seminars are a worthwhile use of employees' time, or are they simply encouraging people to go because they've been tasked with facilitating continuing education or some such thing?
posted by box at 8:08 AM on September 7, 2011

I think it's fine to speak your mind to your boss.

"You know I like to learn both on my own time and at work, but I find some of these events to have rather bothersome consequences. For example, the last time I attended, I received 8 phone calls from salespeople in as many days."

Also, has your boss ever been to one of these events? Does your boss feel they are valuable even after witnessing them?
posted by cranberrymonger at 8:12 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Since you have sat through these, you are now the expert. I'd go back to your boss and point out which ones specifically have ended up being more marketing bluster than actual information. He or she may not know. Go in with that attitude and not the what-an-idiot attitude and you two may have a productive conversation about continuing education and also what he or she really intends by forwarding these.

All people get hoodwinked by *free!*free!* sometimes and your boss may figure that even if you get one nugget of info for FREE!!! that it's worth it. However, you are using billable time to attend these so it's time to have a deeper discussion.
posted by amanda at 8:14 AM on September 7, 2011

Best answer: Your boss is likely struggling to deliver PDPs (Professional Development Plans) for staff with no budget. So to get off the useless webinar hook, send a one page actual PDP back to him that carries no overhead. You know, "Weekly I will watch one Google webinar from the X series. Monthly I will participate in one Y hack day to keep my foo skills up to date, and attend one new Z webinar from the following technical skills list." Or whatever is appropriate. Offer to report back on these monthly with total "training" time invested.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:16 AM on September 7, 2011 [7 favorites]

Why are you avoiding the sales calls? Answer and state firmly that you are not interested and that they are not to contact you again. One brief discussion will save you a lot of hassle.

If you can make the case that the time spent attending these sessions take you away from more important responsibilities, they are likely to understand that justification fairly easily. If you can also find your own session (like the Google one), you will look not just responsible, but also proactive.
posted by oddman at 8:17 AM on September 7, 2011

Two thoughts ... probably not very helpful, but...

If your boss does get any training budget in the future ... the grumpy prick who told him the webinars were a waste of valuable time will probably be the last on the training spend list.

Have you considered that perhaps your boss attends these, or something similar, an he does get something out of them? (perhaps to a non-techy they look like high-tech).

I guess I'm saying you may want to phrase your objections carefully, and be constructive.
posted by jannw at 8:26 AM on September 7, 2011

Best answer: I did this at my last fulltime job.

Identify things that you want to learn and ways to learn them and propose them to your boss instead of the options that he presents to you.

One approach that worked really well at my last place (and would probably meet the budget needs for your workplace) was that I identified things that I wanted to learn that most of my department would also probably not know much about and then went about figuring out how to get the content.

So for example, few of us in our department knew much about editing but if we did learn more info, the final product would be better. I asked the editor if she would be interested in teaching such a class and I asked my coworkers if they would be interested in taking such a class. Many people were interested in this idea.

Then I went to my box and said “we don’t know how to do X, would love to learn how to do X, would you be okay if person Y offered a class during lunch?” They really liked the idea and occasionally offered other “lunch and learn sessions” and if there was a lot of $ in the budget, threw in a pizza for us.

But I would guess most workplaces have these gaps (only people in another department know how to do something) and they may be more than happy to teach it to you if your department showed interest and perhaps it would save them time, too, in the long run.

I take some of these free webinars now, too. Most are garbage and are sales gimmicks. I change my phone number by a digit.
posted by Wolfster at 8:54 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Boss is a techie too (thankfully), he does attend these things with us generally, and to be honest I'm not sure what value he ascribes to them, since he's just as much of a cynic as I am. The answers here so far have given me some additional insight to consider, and I feel like I have enough information now to have a frank chat with him about the subject.

I love the alternative ideas suggested too -- Wolfster, I will chew on your suggestion about lunch and learn especially. Big Boss around here goes back and forth a lot on whether he wants us cross-trained or specialized; depending on which way the wind is blowing, it might be worth pursuing.
posted by trunk muffins at 9:04 AM on September 7, 2011

Can't you work while the webinar is in progress? How will anyone know how much/little attention is being paid? At least then you'll be productive.

And nthing the phone call dodge.. "Sorry, I am not in any way a decision-maker about this technology. Talking to me is a waste of time since I have no spending authority. You need to contact ___."

Re the annoying calls... our phone system has caller ID; I make a note of the pushy vendors' numbers and just don't answer those calls when they call again. If yours doesn't though, I guess you can't. I also have been known to answer strange numbers with a fake-voiced, "Banana's Office, who may I say is calling?" and put them to voice mail.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 3:29 PM on September 7, 2011

It's hard to predict which ones will be useful. Watch at your desk, and use the time to clean your inbox. try to find more useful webinars or other self-training, and see if your boss will relent.
posted by theora55 at 4:13 PM on September 7, 2011

If the webinar comes with a sales pitch, then you probably shouldn't be wasting your time with it. It probably doesn't contain enough information anyway.

But if it is something like a [$Vendor] technology preview or training film, then yes, you should watch them.
posted by gjc at 4:49 PM on September 7, 2011

Public sector employee in IT. Occasionally we get webinars but usually it's either because we're evaluating a product or cross training on a related department's systems. Unlike many places, we have a budget for training and conferences, but I've been in your pickle before. Hell it was an interview question at my last job.

I'd definitely at least try proposing an alternative plan. Google has Tech Talks, and Microsoft Research, I just discovered, has like two thousand videos recorded and available on the web. Beyond that there's all kinds of conference presentations available. I bounce between, djangocon, and google I/O. You might be able to find similar ones for your niche.
posted by pwnguin at 5:23 PM on September 8, 2011

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