What Do You Do When You Can't Get Training - or a Life?

To the Career Counselor:

Our budget for staff development is just gone. What ideas do you have for things I can do with my group that don’t cost any money?

— Pennies for Professional Development

Dear Pennies:

We are all aware of how important staff professional development is to improving our services as well as retaining quality employees. During this economic downturn, many organizations have looked at slashing professional development budgets as a way to reduce costs. Regardless of whether or not one agrees with this approach, there are a number of ways that you might provide professional development for your staff during these tough economic times. Here is just a sample of ideas for things you can do on your own campus or in your department, at little or no cost:

  • Create study groups that learn and work together on problems that your group needs to solve. This is especially effective for group learning of technical skills.
  • Form professional development groups around specific interests, such as leadership or management development. You can meet informally at lunchtimes and discuss current literature or how to address a particular challenge at hand. Rotate responsibility for leading the group.
  • Take advantage of campus expertise. Your own faculty and staff have much to share based on experience or strengths they have developed over time. Invite local experts to give a seminar or run a discussion session.
  • Create your own seminar series, where you, your staff, and other invited speakers can share knowledge and ideas. This not only helps you hone your presentation skills, it creates an opportunity for broader engagement and learning, especially if you open the series to the campus community.
  • Keep your eyes open for local opportunities. Corporate events, seminars offered by local professional association chapters, or events on other campuses may come at little or no cost, with no travel required.
  • Participate in relevant (and free) EDUCAUSE webinars, listen to EDUCAUSE podcasts, and tap the wealth of other EDUCAUSE resources available to members.
  • Start and/or participate in online technical communities or discussion groups.
  • Set up and attend social networking events. Invite IT colleagues from other institutions to build your local network.
  • Use and engage in online social networking services such as Twitter.
  • Set up wikis to create community sources of information.
  • Set expectations that staff will actively engage in seeking out opportunities for themselves so that there is a mix of individual and supervisor participation.
  • Tap vendors to provide training opportunities. Be sure to include knowledge transfer into any purchase of new equipment.
  • Actively encourage mentoring relationships. Refer to the EDUCAUSE Mentoring Information Kit to get started.
  • Look for cross-training opportunities, and consider partnering with others outside of your institution.
  • Read the article “Professional Development in Tough Financial Times” by Paul B. Gandel and Cynthia Golden (EDUCAUSE Quarterly, vol. 27, no. 1, 2004). It is full of ideas for PD on the cheap.
  • Remember that trade journals are also great sources, such as CIO Magazine, InfoWorld, and CIO Insight. It’s also important to read journals in areas that affect technology, such as business.

As you look for additional, low-cost avenues for professional development, be smart about it and get the most for your efforts. Look at your departmental priorities and focus your training and development efforts on your high-priority projects. Invest in proven strategies. Follow up with staff on how they are applying what they learn. Doing this will help you focus, build commitment among your staff, and get the best results. Your staff, and you, will see direct benefits.

— The Career Counselor


To the Career Counselor:

I don’t seem to be doing a good job with work/life balance these days and neither does my team. People seem really burned out. What strategies can I use to turn this around?

— Burned Out and Bummed Out

Dear Burned Out:

A recent study of more than 50,000 employees from a variety of manufacturing and service organizations found that two out of every five employees are dissatisfied with the balance between their work and their personal lives. The lack of balance is “due to long work hours, changing demographics, more time in the car, the deterioration of boundaries between work and home, and increased work pressure,” says the study’s author, Bruce Katcher, president of the Discovery Group, a management consulting firm.

It used to be that employees showed up for work Monday to Friday, working eight-hour days. This made those boundaries between work and home fairly clear. But the world has changed and the boundaries have blurred for many workers. In today’s highly connected workforce it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to separate one’s personal life from work. Many IT professionals are either formally or informally “on call” for troubleshooting and consulting 24 hours a day. Additionally, IT professionals tend to be more “connected” — we often have a greater level of familiarity with advanced communication technologies. The result is that many professionals are over-stressed from the sense that they don’t have control over their personal lives. Getting a handle on work/life balance is necessary to help reduce the stress.

Here are some general tips to help you get started on putting things in perspective:

  • Figure out what really matters to you in life. Getting your priorities clear is the first and most essential step toward achieving a well-balanced life.
  • Determine what activities aren’t necessary and drop them. Consider keeping a log of your activities for a week — you can find work/life balance calculators online to assist with this process. The amount of things that you do that really aren’t necessary might surprise you.
  • Guard your private time. You would think twice before skipping out on work, a parent-teacher conference, or a doctor’s appointment — your private time deserves the same respect. Learn to say no to things that impinge.
  • You may need to get help from colleagues or mentors to bring your life into balance — accept the help.
  • Plan fun and relaxation — schedule it, and you might be more likely to do it.
  • Read. In the book Cultivating Careers: Professional Development for Campus IT (edited by Cynthia Golden and published by EDUCAUSE in 2006), Tracey Leger-Hornby and Ron Bleed addressed achieving a reasonable work/life balance. See Chapter 7 for their detailed advice.

You can’t help your team if you don’t have your own balance figured out, so start with yourself and look at some of the tips listed above. Encouraging open discussion and conversation among your staff is a good initial step toward dealing with the issue on a wider basis. People who are productive and happy generally have managed their work/life balance issues well.

— The Career Counselor