Working full-time but studying for a degree in my spare time... should I tell my boss??
January 31, 2007 5:43 PM   Subscribe

I've just been accepted into a distance education university course. I'm working full-time and intend to keep working and do the course in my spare time. But I was wondering, should I tell my boss?

I had to discontinue my university course two years ago, because I needed to work more hours and couldn't do that and attend classes, which were a three hour round trip away, at the same time.

I've now been accepted into a similar university course that I'm able to do via distance education. I currently work full-time (9:00am – 5:30pm, and live about a 5 min drive away) and intend to attempt to continue working while completing the course. I don't have a lot of other commitments other than work, but I think this could be manageable.

My current job is basically reception work with retail and mobile phone sales. I manage the mobile sales section of the business (it's only small, we're a local company with only five employees, and we all handle our own little departments). If the university course does get too much, my partner and I have decided that we could afford for me to work part-time.

My main issue is that I am not sure if I should tell my boss about the course at all. I'd like for him to know, so that I don't feel like I'm sneaking around doing stuff behind his back, and so that it wouldn't be a total shock if I asked for my hours to be cut down to part-time. He'd probably also be a little more understanding if I needed to take annual leave days off for exams etc.

Business in our town has been quiet over the last few months, and my boss has mentioned that we're struggling and have to cut costs. I have wondered if I'm going to be told there was not enough work left for me to do and asked to find another job. I'm afraid that if I told my boss I was studying, I think he'd feel a little better if he had to ask me to leave, maybe even encouraged, because I was doing something else anyway.

I know everyone/company/boss is different but if anyone else has been in a similar situation themselves, I'd be interested to know what you did and how it went.
posted by saileyn to Work & Money (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You fail to mention if you're planning on doing coursework while at work so that may play into this. If so, you should consult with your management to ensure they are ok with it.

If it will have no impact on your work, you have no obligation whatsoever to tell them anything.
posted by Octoparrot at 5:58 PM on January 31, 2007

I've done it both ways.

When I took nightclasses several years ago I didn't bother telling my boss. It was totally in my own time and had nothing to do with work. I didn't keep it a secret either, I talked about going to class with my friends and would be upfront about it with anyone that asked, but I downplayed it and never made any kind of official announcement. When I took time off for the big end of year assignment I just asked for the leave, didn't give any reasons.

When I was studying at my most recent job I discussed it with my boss because a) my job was secure, b) we had a good working relationship (and I discussed my career aspirations with him anyway), c) it was in the same field as my job and d) I had to leave early sometimes to go to class. The last point made telling him necessary, I think, and if this is the case for you then you should mention it.

Since you're working extramurally and in your own time then I agree that you have no obligation. In your situation I'd probably give the studying a go first and see how things are working out, then maybe drop it into conversation later on if it becomes more necessary. Once told your boss can't be untold, but there's no reason you can't casually mention it later on. If the work continues slow or the course work ends up being more than you thought then going part time might end up being good for both you and your boss, so maintain a good relationship with him.

One reason to be open about it is if your study is at all related to your current job or possible future career path with that company then being able to talk to people at work about it all can be really helpful. I was surprised at how much being in the indistry and talking to more senior scientists helped me with studying even though the course work was a different branch of biology than where I worked. YMMV as to how much this applies.

Whatever you decide, I don't think you're sneaking around. I don't tell my boss about all the things I do in my spare time, extra classes after work are no different.
posted by shelleycat at 6:18 PM on January 31, 2007

Octoparrot is right — you have no obligation. However, if you have a good relationship with your boss then I would tell him, if only because when the time comes that you need more leeway/less hours, whatever, then you aren't catching him off guard. I wouldn't say now that you think you may need more time off, as this could make you seem less dedicated to your job. Just give him a heads up that you are making this commitment.

I would think a boss would see an employee who wants to continue their education as an asset.

This advice assumes, of course, that you are NOT studying during work hours.
posted by Brittanie at 6:18 PM on January 31, 2007

I am assuming a couple of things here. Firstly, that you will not be doing university coursework at your job. Secondly, that your university course (and intended career) have no relation to your current job, and that the long term plan is to leave the job after you graduate.

If both my assumptions are correct, then I would suggest that you should not tell your boss about it, especially if business is slow and you think he might be choosing who to lay off in a while. What you do in your spare time is your business, and when it doesn't affect your day job, it would be wiser to keep quiet until/if you need to explain. If you need to take a day off to go do an exam, that's no different from taking a day off to go to a wedding or visit friends. I'm not suggesting you be deceitful or anything, just that you keep your cards close to your chest until you need to show them.
posted by Joh at 6:28 PM on January 31, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you all for such quick responses!

You assume correctly: doing coursework at work is a complete no-no and yes, my course is unrelated to my job - it's a professional writing/journalism course and I'm currently working in the retail/computer/telecommunications field.

From what you have all said so far, my thinking that I don't technically have an obligation to mention anything to my boss, seems to be on the right track and I just need to get rid of the niggling "but-I-should-explain-it-all-now" feeling.

And to be honest, now that I think about it: trying to prove that I can do something is probably what's clouding my judgment. My boss has always treated me like I'm not intelligent, due to the lack of a university degree, and just assumes I'll work here in our little town right up until I buy a house and become a full-time Mum.

So you're right, I need to get over that little mental hurdle, and keep my course to myself for the time being :)
posted by saileyn at 7:12 PM on January 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

I would let your boss know informally, much like shelleycat said-- don't make an announcement, but don't be shy about telling your coworkers what you're spending your time on outside work. The class you're taking is somewhat related to your job (as in, once you start getting into professional writing, I bet you'll see all sorts of ways that your company's written materials could be improved). If your boss knows you're working on writing, there may be a chance that you can take on other projects at your current job (and you could show yourself to be more valuable than other folks in your company-- you're knowledgeable about the retail job *and* understand and can create written communications!). The experiences there could help you when you're trying to find a job in the writing field in a few years.

I did a similar thing while working as an admin and going to library school concurrently; I got more interesting admin projects involving heavy-duty research, and I think those experiences helped me get the librarian job I currently have.
posted by holyrood at 9:05 PM on January 31, 2007

I'm almost finished doing an MA in distance learning--while working full time. It is doable. And I did tell my boss. My situation is a little different than yours (the degree is, in a way, related to my job). But I also find that people are interested in what I'm doing and quite supportive. And showing you have initiative can get you work bonus points.

People are right--you're under no obligation to say anything. But it can be helpful (Also, if you spent all your spare time doing a hobby, you'd probably end up talking about it at work. If you spend all your spare time doing schoolwork, you'll probably end up talking about that too--something that occupies all your time is kind of hard not to talk about).
posted by Badmichelle at 11:55 PM on January 31, 2007

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