Leaving a job: when is it too soon?

Does training staff just increase their value to their next employer?

According to Squarewheels.com, a magazine ran a Dilbert quotes contest and one of the quotes from a real manager was: “Turnover is good for the company, as it proves that we are doing a good job in training people.”

It’s worrying that any manager would think this way, but it raises a vexing issue. What can companies do to stop staff leaving after they’ve spent substantial amounts of money training them?

Take the case of Michael Goodrich, a junior database administrator. SearchCIO.com’s Robert Westervelt reports that Goodrich had no worries about leaving his first job shortly after his company had paid for a three-week technical course on new Oracle database features.

“Goodrich used his new skills to nearly double his pay, but the 29-year-old former computer designer said he owed his former employer nothing,” Westervelt writes.

Loyalty is a big issue, particularly when some companies are outsourcing IT jobs offshore, he says.

Another DBA is quoted in Westervelt’s article as saying it is abusive to take employer-paid training and then immediately move elsewhere.

"The original employer has made an investment in the employee and it's only fair to give the employer a chance to benefit from the investment."

However, the second DBA balances that with other factors, such as whether the employer treats its employees well.

"Does the employer lay people off without notice? Do heads roll as soon as a project is completed? An employer can't reasonably expect better treatment from its employees than it gives to them."

Meanwhile, another interviewee, also a former DBA, is quoted as remembering the days when it was expected employees would be with a company until they retired — whereas today nearly all IT employees feel they could be laid off, even if they're doing a good job.

Often, companies will try to protect themselves with a training bond. They might withhold reimbursement from employees for up to several months after the training, or give only partial reimbursement, depending on the amount of time they've served with the company.

AllBusiness.com says the policy will change depending on the circumstances. For example, if the employee receives training during work time (or as a requirement of the job), it says you shouldn’t place any restrictions on when a person leaves the company, but a retention-incentive programme such as a bonus for staying with the company could be considered.

“If you provide tuition assistance for voluntary training that's not a requirement of the job and is taken on an employee's own time, you can require them to reimburse you if they elect to leave the company before an agreed time.”

What needs to be done is to ensure employees sign an agreement acknowledging that if they receive tuition assistance and don't stay for at least six months, then they must reimburse the company.

Another take on the situation, however, comes from hrzone.co.uk (a subscription site), where readers wrote in with advice for someone grappling with the issue. One suggested companies need to provide new opportunities once they've gained the training, while another asked why people leave after receiving training.

“Surely the best way of recouping your costs is for them to stay with your company voluntarily, not by being tied into some contractual deal … perhaps you should be asking what it is about the company that makes people not want to stay after they have received training? Why, after having received this valuable training, are they not coming back eager to use their new-found knowledge and skills in the company that paid for it?”

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