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Inside Buffer

Why We Decided To Give All Employees $20 per Month for Learning and Development

One of the 10 Buffer values we aspire to is constant self-improvement, which includes learning new skills, new information, new everything. Little did we know how much there was to learn about learning itself!

Recently, we’ve specifically sought out even more ways to encourage learning for our whole team at Buffer, with projects spearheaded by our People team and our teammate Deborah.

The main question she’s been asking is: How can we help encourage a culture of learning on our team?

That’s where learning and development comes in.

The concept of learning and development is “the formal, ongoing efforts that are made within an organization to improve the performance of its employees.” (KashmirObserver) Learning and development can take on various forms: coaching, classes, conferences, training, or many other things. Here’s how we’ve started to implement it in a lean way at Buffer.

What learning and development looks like at Buffer

There are two things top of mind for us when we’re thinking about learning and development:

  1. We want something that can be accessible to the entire team, not just one part of the Buffer team, and we don’t want to exclude teammates who might not be able to attend a class or conference.
  2. We’re working with a very small budget, so it needs to be affordable.

One perk that we have at Buffer now related to learning and development, is our Kindle perk where all employees get a Kindle when they start at Buffer and free Kindle books whenever they want them. (In 2016, the team read 1,366 books on their Kindles, that was 17 books per person.)

The unlimited Kindle and Audible perk is an incredible help in the team’s self-improvement goals and in growing new skills.

At this point in Buffer’s journey, we felt ready to add to that perk (without replacing the Kindle perk) and start investing further into resources that could help folks learn from different mediums like tutorials, online courses, or real-life courses.

With that in mind, Deborah implemented a Learning and Development Stipend of $20 per month, per teammate. That works out to about $18,000 for one entire year (assuming everyone uses the stipend every month.)

A stipend was the easiest and most widespread learning perk that we could immediately kick off for everyone at Buffer. Many of our Buffer teammates are already self-starters and just needed a small amount of encouragement — or a small reminder — to focus on learning.

How the stipend works

Does it need to be related to a teammates role?

It doesn’t! Each teammate can choose to spend $20 on learning whatever they’d like. We do this because we want to encourage all types of learning: core training, stretch learning, and holistic development. Here’s a bit more on each of those:

How do conferences fit in?

Bufferoos love conferences and there are so many amazing ones across many industries. While we’d all love to attend as many as possible, conferences do tend to be quite expensive and we’re not in a place to allocate a large budget to this (just yet!).

Can several months of the stipend be used at once?

Yes! If the courses or classes go beyond the $20 stipend, a person can use several months of their stipend – up to $180 for 2017 (since we kicked off this perk in April).

Why $20?

Most teammates can already afford to spend $20 a month on learning development if they’d like. The goal for us with the stipend wasn’t to give them a huge amount of money but to let them know that this is something we want to support at Buffer. The total investment for Buffer annually is $18,000.

So far the feedback we’ve gotten from our team is that even though the stipend is a small amount, it really got people’s wheels turning on what to learn next.

Here are a few examples of resources that this stipend was calculated against and could cover initially:

  • Core Training ?
  • Stretch Learning ?
  • Holistic Development ?
NameType Price Tag  
Highbrow10 day email courses (5 min/day readings)$7/month (if paid monthly) or $4/month (if paid annually)🍎 🍑
BlinkistNon-fiction Book summaries$49.99 annually for Blinkist Plus / $79.99 annually for Blinkist Premium🍎 🍑
CourseraCourses of all types (partnerships with Universities)$45/month average for technical courses (some are free)🍏 🍎
SkillshareUnlimited access to over 14,000 classes (all types) Pro version includes
offline access & no ads.
Ex: Creative, Business, Technology, Lifestyle (Languages, Crafts etc.)
$18/month (if paid monthly) or 10$ if paid annually🍏 🍎 🍑
TreehouseCoding courses$25 per month (basic)🍏 🍎
Udacity| Nanodegrees in partnerships with businesses & free courses
Ex: Robotics, Digital Marketing, Predictive Analytics for Business, VR Developer, Artificial Intelligence, Android basics, Machine Learning Engineer, Intro to Programming, Full Stack, Front-end, iOS, Data Analyst
$299/month (7 day trial) for NanoDegrees🍏 🍎
UdemyCourses of all types (from psychology to woodworking)Not a subscription, between $15 and $200🍏 🍎
CodeAcademyCoding classes (pro version includes a personalised Learning Plan, access to quizzes and real world projects, $19.99/month for the Pro version🍏 🍎
General AssemblyPart time courses and full time courses (on site) or online classes and workshops (Design, Data, Social Media, Coding, running a podcast etc.)$235 for Short Courses, $1,250 for part-time courses🍏 🍎
Khan AcademyShort courses in Science & engineering, Computing, Computer programming, Computer science, Arts & humanities, Grammar, Music, History (art, US, world), Economics & finance, Finance & capital markets, EntrepreneurshipFree courses (but limited in depth/length)🍏 🍎 🍑

Of course, people don’t need to choose from this list. These are just a few examples. ?

The number of Buffer teammates who are using this perk is…

21 out of 74 total employees, or 28%, in May. We’re quite excited at this initial jump and can’t wait to keep growing this number.

Here’s what the usage looks like since April 2017 (when we first launched the perk.)

How are Bufferoos using this perk?

Since the $20 doesn’t need to be directly related to someone’s role, we were quite keen to see how this stipend might get used.

Here are the categories in which people are spending the stipend:

  • 5.1% – Wireframing
  • 5.1% – Language
  • 10.3% – Python
  • 11.7% – General
  • 15.3% – Leadership
  • 17.1% – Development
  • 23.8% – Data Science

Everything from learning music, weaving, or a new language, to data science and web development.

Here are the methods that people are using for learning, too:

  • 4.8% – Datacamp
  • 4.8% – Highbrow
  • 4.8% – Individual Coaching
  • 4.8% – Skillshare
  • 4.8% – Book & Tutorial
  • 4.8% – Openclassroom
  • 4.8% – Audio Lessons
  • 9.5% – Udemy
  • 9.5% – Lynda
  • 14.3% – Treehouse
  • 19% – Meetup / Conference

Learn What We’re Learning!

These are the top resources we’re using our learning and development stipend on at Buffer, feel free to check them out and see if there are any courses you’re keen to get learning.

Udemy – Online courses with a range of topics
Skillshare – Online courses for creators
Highbrow – Get 5-minute lessons delivered to your inbox every morning
Datacamp – Learn Data Science online
Lynda – Online courses, classes, training, and tutorials
Treehouse – Learn Web Design, Coding, and more

Other learning initiatives we’re working on

We have a few other smaller initiatives on the go, too. These are all a result of Deb discovering from other companies that learning and development is most effective when it’s paired with a way that employees are given time to focus on it.

The Helpboard

A living document where any teammate can post what kind of learning they need help with (ie. writing javascript) and another teammate can jump in to assist. We’re also using it to share who on the team can help with which skills to make it easy to learn from and help each other.

Learning Groups

We’re experimenting with putting groups together of people who are all learning the same thing. Right now we regularly have a “Learning to code” group that is getting together.

Professional Development Fridays

Our Happiness Team Lead, Åsa, put together a structure so that the Happiness Heroes can take a half day for professional development on Fridays when their tasks are all finished for the week.

How other companies do learning and development

We’re certainly not the first tech company to have a focus on learning.

Zappos

We’ve long admired how Zappos treats their team. For learning, Zappos created a department specifically for employee development called ZapposU in 2008. Here’s more from their blog:

The concept of ZapposU started with the launch of two classes, Project Culture and Communication. The goal was to offer classes that focused on helping employees develop soft skills and characteristics that a strong leader would embody. Soon classes like Finance and Public Speaking followed. Before long, departments were requesting training tools and department-specific classes. “It really evolved organically,” says Diana Guido, ZapposU Trainer. Department-specific classes are taught by department experts on those topics and often supplement certain progression paths.

Slack

Right on their hiring page, Slack explains that employees receive $500 annually towards a personal development opportunity of their choice and $2000 annually for professional development. That’s huge investment on Slack’s part and really helps frame how much they prioritize employee learning and development.

Shopify

Shopify also has learning and development front and center on their hiring page. Touting everything from learning budgets to one-on-one coaching, there are many ways a company can encourage development.

Your personal growth is important to us, and we’ll give you everything you need to make it happen: learning budgets, mentorship opportunities, one-on-one coaching, skill development workshops, you name it. We encourage you to experiment, take risks, and pursue the things you care about. And if you make a mistake? That’s ok – learn from it, and share your experience with the team.

Over to you!

We’d love to learn (?) what you think!

  • How would you spend $20 a month? (All ideas welcome!)
  • Does your company do learning and development? If so, what does it look like?
  • What kind of learning do you focus on?

Share in the comments below. ?

  • Jane Anderson

    This is just another one of the hundred reasons Buffer is a PRIME organization. If I had $20/month I would apply it to each of my 10 learning objectives that I set at the beginning of the year. First I would find a writing class, next a class to learn more about my computer and gain expertise in applications, next social media – and my list is very long. $20 might be my down payment but it would get me enrolled and a commitment to do well. Thank you for the list of places to try for some of the things I want to learn. I am interested in if anyone has found Udemy to be quality learning. I have taken a few classes from them but so far all have been a disappointment, but I suspect it’s because I just made poor choices. It’s so hard to know what you are getting from a description.

    • Hi @disqus_2zRicZTlIs:disqus! :) Wow! You have quite the list already, super awesome to hear!

      • Jane Anderson

        Hahaha @HailleyGriffis:disqus I’m old so have less time to fit it all in. :)

  • Erik Blair

    A very cool value-added benefit to belonging to a progressive culture that cares about employee development. I would most likely explore Udemy or Treehouse with my $20. I work for myself and I am always self-learning (like reading this article).

    • Very cool, Erik! What Treehouse course would you do? :)

  • Dori Rutkevitz

    Thanks for this article! What tool are you using the for “Helpboard”? Also, are you tracking usage via expense reports, or is there some other way teammates allocate this stipend?

    • Hi Dori! Thanks for the comment. For the “Helpboard” we use a Paper doc with a table that looks like this:

      person // things I can teach // things I want to learn

      And you’re exactly right about the tracking. We have a category in Expensify where we can track and allocate these funds accordingly!

  • Matt

    Thanks for the article Hailley! When does the time for learning and development occur? Does Buffer encourage staff to do their learning during or outside of typical work hours?

    • Oh, really good question, Matt. This could be an article unto itself! It varies teammate to teammate, and there are no hard and fast rules. I’d say a good portion of teammates use the time during typical work hours to add a work-related skill. :)

  • Lisa Pfeffer

    Hailley,

    Wow, what a great perk to have! It’s nice to see a business investing in their employees growth. That’s something I have never experienced myself from any company I have worked for. Well, except for my time in the Military. But education and goals aimed towards your rank and military specialty.

    For $20 a month, I’d apply it towards online courses. I do that now to help expand my skills and resume. The only downside is a lot of the courses I’m interested in are more than $20! This month, I’ve taken courses in writing, Pinterest, blogging, and email list building.

    I currently am self-employed, and have worked as a Virtual Assistant part-time. So, taking the time to learn and become a subject matter expert in sought after areas have helped me find work. I don’t make amazing income, but I make enough. Currently, I’d guess that 80% of my income goes towards learning something new every month.

    Lisa

    • Hi @lisa_pfeffer:disqus, I love your initiative in taking these courses. That’s a major investment, shows how committed you are! Do you have a favourite platform for taking courses? :)

      • Lisa Pfeffer

        @HailleyGriffis:disqus,

        Ya, it’s costly. But I think it’s worth it. And,I find that if I’m not learning anything new from taking a course, to me that signals I might be proficient enough in that area. Though, I do find sometimes teachers do not expand on certain areas. And, it may not be one teacher, but several. Sometimes, that’s actually a good thing because then I have to force myself to learn on my own. And, that could be a good idea for a course in the future. :)

        I actually prefer courses that are on the Teachable platform. However, unlike other sites such as Udemy or Lynda, you can’t search up courses. So, I typically find the people that teach certain courses through e-mail lists or blogs.

        Lisa

        • You are such an inspiration, Lisa! Thanks so much for sharing more here. :)

          • Lisa Pfeffer

            Thanks @h@HailleyGriffis:disqus

  • Glenda Shaw

    Wow! I am blown away by the ways your business and others are showing that you care a value your teams. Great minds with great attitudes!

    • Thank you so much for such a kind comment and for giving this a read, @disqus_D4hTI6yZV4:disqus!

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