Written by: Donna Kirk – The Pro Forum Community of Practice

When employees schedule annual leave, processes are generally implemented that allows for another employee or temp staff to undertake the duties of the employee on leave. Effectively the role is backfilled for the period that an employee is away on annual leave.

So why don’t we do this when people undergo training?

As trainers, we are keenly aware that people’s capacity to learn and acquire new skills and information requires them to be present, in the moment, if you will.

Providing offsite training – or being in a different location than the normal working environment – can eliminate distractions and help employees focus on the new information or ideas being presented.

Maximising the Return On Investment (ROI) of training is generally a focus of the team or person organising the training.

Which brings us to the question raised in the title– why is training treated differently to annual leave?

We often see students taking their breaks from training and instead of using it for its intended purpose –brain breaks – we see them clearing emails, returning calls in between snatched mouthfuls of food. Then they load up the coffee ready for the next learning session.

The reason: because they must stay up with what’s happening at work otherwise, they will be swamped when they return! Simply because while they are away from their workplace, there is no temporary replacement undertaking their duties or tasks. The tasks simply wait for the employees return – then it’s a case of catch up as fast as possible before the next wave hits!

So let us look at that ROI:

Return (benefit)

_________________________________________________    = ROI

Investment (cost)


Employee training and development is a broad concept that goes beyond immediate work roles. We need to identify the benefits/return to both the individual and the organisation for development AND training – because they are different.

Development programs increase employees’ future perform whereas employee training is more about learning new skills and acquiring specific knowledge that employees can apply instantly to bring about significant improvements in their current job roles.

And there are benefits to consider:

  • Retention: Training and development helps companies and organisations gain and retain top talent, can increase job satisfaction and morale, along with improving productivity and profitability.
    • Individual benefit – job satisfaction
    • Organisational benefit – reduction in turnover
  • Consistency: A robust training and development program ensures that employees have a consistent experience and background knowledge. The consistency is particularly relevant for the company’s basic policies and procedures. All employees need to be aware of the expectations and procedures within the company. Increased efficiencies in processes results in financial gain for the company.
    • Individual benefit – a greater understanding of the organisational requirements
    • Organisational benefit – more consistent delivery of product or service increasing organisational reputation
  • Increased innovation in new strategies and products: Ongoing training and upskilling of the workforce can encourage creativity. New ideas can be formed as a direct result of training and development.
    • Individual benefit – greater degree of ‘ownership’ and connection to the organisation
    • Organisational benefit – potential ideas becoming income streams or better ways of doing things
  • Shared knowledge: Stronger awareness of Best Practice, changes in former methodology can assist the organisation to remain relevant especially in times of rapid change.
    • Individual benefit – updating of skills and current knowledge improving job skills
    • Organisational benefit – increased opportunities for knowledge sharing across the wider organisation with employees being more effective in the workplace

The benefits are clear – perhaps intangible, but clear, nonetheless.

Turning to the Investment component of the ROI equation.

  • What is the cost in dollars and time?
  • What is the cost of NOT undertaking the training /development?
  • What is the cost of not having a desired outcome?

These are questions that need to be asked by the organiser along with an additional question that can often be overlooked:

“What is the cost of investing time and money in people to attend training to have them NOT completely focussed?”

Training shouldn’t be treated differently to annual leave. In both situations, a specific person is not able to complete their usual tasks because they are away. In both situations that person is still being paid.  However, in training there is a wider degree of benefit for both parties as we established above.

If we can encourage full and active participation of employees in training by ensuring, we backfill people’s roles while they are in training, we can increase benefits and the ROI.

Giving people permission to fully engage and learn can only come when we consider all aspects of training and the benefits we gain.

Therefore, we need to ask – are we treating training and annual leave the same when it comes to business as usual in our organisation – and if not, what can we do differently?


NOTE: The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter, and specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances. The content must not be relied upon as legal, technical, financial or other professional advice.