How to Show Employees What to Use Professional Development Stipends On

The battle for hiring and keeping talent is intensifying. Forward-thinking organizations are turning the tide by investing in their most valuable asset: their employees. In particular, professional development stipend programs should be a game-changer, but they are simply not being used!

Here’s a real example: when Buffer gave out a monthly stipend to their employees for development, only 28% of them actually used it! This begs the question, why are your employees reluctant to use these stipends? Is it that people don’t know that they’re available?

One SHRM study found that only 9% of HR professionals indicated their organization’s employees were “very knowledgeable” about the development benefits available to them. Why? Because organizations are large. It’s easy for information to get lost, and it’s not uncommon for an employee to be unaware of their own benefits. Like many issues in the HR world, the root of the problem is not about what is actually provided, but how it’s actively communicated. 

That communication doesn’t happen on its own. Leaders must ensure the full scale of benefits are presented clearly to all employees, not just those in leadership positions. Most of your employees likely don’t know their stipend options exist! 

If these challenges are not addressed, your stipend dollars will sit unused. To fix that, let’s dive into what to use professional stipends on and how you can help your employees take full advantage of them.

Employees Desire Professional Development Opportunities

“What we’re missing is tapping into the reservoir of willingness in our firms that are just waiting to be accessed – that of the employees themselves! Behavioral research has proven that when people change behaviors with others they get far superior, sustainable results, and this extends to how we develop employees.”

Ben Brooks, CEO & Founder, PILOT

Contrary to what some might assume, a lack of motivation is not the primary reason behind the underutilization of professional development stipends. Employees are keen on opportunities that foster their growth and development. With millennials in particular, 59% say they find development opportunities extremely important when deciding whether to apply for a position.

HR and DEI leaders must recognize the real obstacle lies in how these opportunities are presented and accessed. As SHRM research shows, the cost of recruiting is only going up. By investing in your current employees and providing the opportunities they want and desire, you’re investing in your future.

HR Thought Starters to Use in Your Next Brainstorming Meeting:

  • What percentage of our current employees utilize professional development stipends?

  • Which employees are most likely to utilize the program?

  • How do we communicate benefits to employees?

  • Where is diverse talent located within our organization, and how can we empower them?

Create a Standardized Way to Use Stipends

Programs that create a shared language and a culture of shared experiences are especially helpful. They foster a sense of unity and common purpose across different functions and departments. This shared understanding is crucial for building an inclusive environment and developing soft skills. Frankly, these two dimensions are often undervalued in traditional professional development settings.

It is critical to consistently market to all groups within your organization about the availability of stipends and to provide guidance on how to access them. Employees who have not had access to development opportunities in the past may be may not even know that there is a program that they can access (a more significant barrier to adoption than you might think).

For talent leaders, utilization and success go beyond getting employee participation in any program. It means finding ones that truly align with career aspirations and organizational goals. Leaders should empower employees and encourage them to make their own choices within the program while carefully curating these potential selections to ensure that each option is a meaningful development opportunity. 

This ensures that the onus of activating development isn’t put on employees or managers while still encouraging them to explore possibilities.

HR Thought Starters to Use in Your Next Brainstorming Meeting:

  • Do our employees and diverse talent understand that they have access to these development programs and stipends?

  • How can we make professional development more accessible and less intimidating for all of our diverse talent?

  • What stipends are valuable to others? Can we consolidate them in one place?

Focus on Extra Communication to All Levels of Your Talent

To find success, work to communicate your new menu of stipends across the organization holistically. Modern employee development means making programs and opportunities more accessible and relevant to everyone, irrespective of their position in the organization. 

Your workforce likely agrees with this approach, too. Eagle Hill Consulting research finds that 53% of U.S. workers say DEI is a key factor when considering a company for employment. For younger workers, those statistics are even higher, with Gen Z at 77% and millennials at 63%.

That means it’s vital to provide and communicate equal opportunity to all employees within your organization.

One way to achieve this equality is through initiatives like network development and group coaching. Such programs provide a platform for employees to engage closely with colleagues, senior managers, and even executives. That can be incredibly valuable for individual career development. Rather than just focusing on traditional learning modules, these programs emphasize deepening relationships with the organization. 

Guidance is particularly important in creating a sense of belonging for employees within an organization. The most effective career advancement is not just about acquiring new skills or knowledge, but building connections within the workplace.

As illustrated by the above Gallup research, what employees look for in their organizations changes from generation to generation. But a throughline that exists is prioritizing employee wellbeing and ethical leadership. That means employees are looking for leaders who look out for them and do so for the right reasons.

This begs the question: In the eyes of the modern workplace, what makes a professional development program effective? Leaders must nudge their employees so they know what to use professional development stipend on that would most benefit their career goals.

HR Thought Starters to Use in Your Next Brainstorming Meeting:

  • How do our professional development programs contribute to employee well-being and ethical leadership? Can we improve? 

  • How effectively are we tracking participation and outcomes of our professional development programs? What metrics can we use?

  • How can we ensure our professional development offerings are immediately applicable to our employees’ current roles? 

Utilize Development Stipends for the Long-term

By offering a menu of various employee development stipends and communicating them, your workforce will be more inclined to stay at your organization and grow. Long term, this approach leads to a more inclusive and productive workforce. 

Are you ready to empower the future leaders of your organization?

Let’s discuss how to implement a group coaching and development program that builds toward an inclusive future. Book a demo with PILOT today!


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