Employee engagement
Cassy Aite
January 17, 2020
12 minutes

Professional Development: Why It Matters and How Companies Are Doing It in 2020

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Professional Development: Why It Matters and How Companies Are Doing It in 2020

Cassy Aite
July 31, 2020
Professional Development: Why It Matters and How Companies Are Doing It in 2020

Most of the best companies have a thriving culture of learning and curiosity. Tobi Lutke, the CEO and founder of Shopify, once famously credited much of the success of the company to its learning culture. The company not only hired people with a natural curiosity, but it also made a significant investment in employees’ continuous education. 

Embracing the art of learning can help transform your company culture and spur progress. To help you make the biggest impact, we’ve brought together some of our latest insights on professional development. We’ve also included a look at how other companies approach professional development, so you can easily find inspiration for your own strategy.

Bonus: We’ve included a 30-day free trial for up to 100+ employees to use our Stipend Management Software Tool. Get started with Hoppier for free!

What Does Professional Development Really Mean?

At its core, professional development covers the learning and education that leads you further along your career. It’s a way to empower you to make choices about your future and take steps to make that happen. Think of it as self-managing your way towards success.

Professional development can include key milestones like attending college or enrolling in an online course. Courses and workshops are a popular form of professional development. They’re a practical and powerful way to learn or improve a skill, often with formal training and certification involved. Some people may take a class at a local college, but online courses and remote learning are growing in popularity for both creative and technical skills.

Outside of formal training, professional development can also apply to smaller points of learning throughout your life. This might include working with a colleague from another team for the day, or volunteering to support behind the scenes at a local charity drive. You can also listen to podcasts or watch webinars to develop your professional skills.

Bottom line: If you learn something that enhances what you do at work, chances are it’s professional development.

High-quality professional development helps you get from one station in your career to the next. Whether you get certified in a new skill or learn a technique that improves your productivity, each step builds out your experience and makes you a more in-demand employee. After all, the more you know, the more you can contribute as a team member (and leader).

A Closer Look at Professional Development Plans

Attendees of a lecture on professional development

To help employees navigate their career, many companies offer professional development plans (PDPs). These plans look at where employees are now, where they want to be, and how to get there. Professional development plans consider the employee’s goals and ambitions and how these align with (or can be supported by) the company. 

Professional development plans lay out a road map that can help employees take control of their learning journey. They're often used alongside performance reviews to set a direction and plan short-term and long-term goals to help employees progress. 

With a PDP you can set measurable career goals and plan action steps. Doing so helps your employees visualize their progress and provides that extra bit of motivation to continue learning and growing. They can see that taking a class in critical thinking or shadowing their colleague from the technical team has a direct, positive impact on their learning journey. 

Professional development plans aren’t just there to be read once and filed away. They’re dynamic, changing documents that are best reviewed often. The most effective managers use PDPs to track an employee’s growth as well as to identify areas for improvement and ways to guide them along the way. 

While some plans might list specific goals like getting certified in a particular skill, others can be more open-ended and cover topics such as leadership development or creative expression. Unless your employees are already highly certified, a mix of both technical and more holistic learning often creates great results. It’s also worth including topics like wellness and mental health within your PDPs, so your teams have a well-rounded understanding of how other factors can influence their job performance and enjoyment of work.

With technical skills and certified learning programs it’s easy to measure progress. You’ll often come away with an award, certification, test results, or formal feedback. With wider topics like management skills or productivity, you’ll want to find a way to measure the success and impact of any learning. This might include a casual interview to understand how an employee’s knowledge has grown, or asking them to give a presentation to the team. 

If you have particularly ambitious employees, PDPs can be an excellent way to help them see where they’ll fit into your company’s future. For employees with goals of leading a team, you can work with them to create a path that helps them learn the right skills and rewards them with an opportunity to move upwards. With a strategic plan in front of them, these valuable employees will feel supported and encouraged that there’s space for them to grow.

Behind most professional development plans sits a collection of employee stipends, benefits, and incentives. These make it easy for your employees to grow. How? By giving them access to training sessions or funding new learning opportunities. With a stipend system in place, you can easily assign funds and let your employees find the best way to reach their learning and development goals.

What Are the Benefits of Investing in Professional Development?

As a company that truly values its employees and what they bring to the table, supporting their professional development seems like an obvious choice. But what are the real, tangible benefits behind it? Here are just a few advantages of investing in learning and creating a culture of education and growth.

Animated photo of people giving each other high fives

Greater Sense of Fulfillment and Happiness

Learning is highly rewarding. It provides a deeper sense of fulfillment and purpose. The effect is even greater when it’s a skill set or technique that can directly impact career performance, pay, or status. 

Think back to the last time you achieved something and how great it made you feel. Offering professional development stipends helps you recreate that same feeling for your employees over and over again. Your company is no longer just a place to work, but a community that welcomes learning and professional development. 

With plenty of opportunities and a company-wide investment in learning and development, your employees are more likely to feel supported in their current job — and less likely to start looking elsewhere for a new one.

Positive Impact on Company Culture

Supporting your employees’ goals and ambitions not only enriches their own experiences, but it enhances the lives of those around them too. Companies that value and support professional development are paving the way for a positive, inclusive, and innovative company culture.

Happy, comfortable, motivated employees are more likely to perform their best, handle challenges more effectively, and brighten up the workplace. You might find your teams start to think more creatively, contribute innovative suggestions, or feel more motivated to reach their goals. The benefits of providing a learning stipend extend far beyond the cost of a course.

More Attractive to Potential Employees

Some companies simply aren’t interested in giving their employees the tools, space, and funds they need to grow and learn. Stand out by making this a core part of what you offer to potential candidates. Don’t hide it away in your job descriptions either — make it clear throughout your hiring process.

These days, candidates have a lot of choices about who they work for — especially with so many companies now welcoming remote working. With a generous and flexible approach to learning stipends and a company culture that supports it, you instantly become a much more attractive option.

See How Your Competitors Handle Professional Development

Office meeting with team members discussing professional development

Inspired by the many upsides of professional development, we interviewed company leaders and researched how top companies invest in development and learning. Here’s how 27 different companies offer their employees these non-taxable learning benefits. 

1. Hoppier - $5,000 Annual Learning Budget 

Here at Hoppier, we offer our employees a generous professional development stipend. Our employees have access to an annual $5,000 learning budget

2. Udemy - Learning Stipend and Professional Development Courses

Udemy offers its employees free access to all courses on both Udemy and Udemy for Business. On top of this, employees can access a yearly stipend for other training and professional development needs.

3. Vice Media - Learning and Wellness Stipend

Vice Media offers employees at its 35 cities across the world a learning and wellness stipend. This can be used to fund tuition, gym access, and more. 

4. Indico - $1,500 Career Development Stipends

Employees at machine learning startup Indico can access $1,500 to spend on professional development perks. These include conferences, courses, and more. 

5. Factor 5 Skin Care - $75 Continuous Learning, Tech, and Wellness Stipends

Factor 5 Skin Care offers its employees $75 a month to spend on learning, wellness, and fitness perks. These perks range from continuous learning and purchasing productivity software to buying a healthy lunch or investing in better tech. 

Animated gif of woman working at her desk

6. Reddit - Self Improvement, Wellness, and Self Development Benefits

Reddit employees get access to the company's Evolve Benefits system, which puts the focus on self-improvement, professional development, and wellness. Funds are available to support a mix of career-focused and well-being courses, like learning how to cook or trying a new language. Other suggested uses include gym memberships and fitness trackers. 

7. Automattic - $250 Monthly to Promote Continued Learning

Automattic, the creators of WordPress, is the largest fully remote company by headcount in the world, with over 1,000 employees working remotely. Employees get support with their home office setup, as well as a coworking allowance of £250 per month. There’s also access to funds for books and conferences that promote continued learning. 

8. Pinterest - $3,000 Housing Stipend for Interns and Professional Development Plans

Pinterest offers its employees a host of diverse benefits as part of its commitment to be family-friendly and support effective professional development. Interns can access a $3,000 housing stipend monthly, while all employees have access to personalized development plans and workshops. 

9. Webflow - Remote Working, Wellness, and Transport Stipends

Webflow offers a variety of benefits and stipends for its employees, including $380 monthly for remote workers, $200 monthly for wellness, $1,000 annually for learning, and credits and stipends towards commuting. 

10. Buffer - $850 Annual Continuing Education Stipend

Buffer is fully remote and offers its employees multiple stipends to help support remote working and collaboration. Benefits include an $850 annual learning stipend, $500 towards a home office, $200 annually for tech needs, and a monthly fund for coffee. 

11. Wyzant - $2,000 Annual Learning Experiences Stipends

Employees at private tutoring service Wyzant can unlock learning stipends and a 50% discount on Wyzant. There’s also access to discounted gym memberships and free yoga.

12. Slack - $2,000 Annually for Professional Development and $500 Annually Towards Personal Goals 

Slack’s hiring page mentions that employees receive $500 annually towards a personal development opportunity of their choice. This is on top of a $2,000 annual stipend for professional development. 

Animation of person in cape

13. HelpScout - $1,800 Annually Towards Professional Development Opportunities

HelpScout has a "Learn Something Stipend" that offers each employee $1,800 to spend annually on learning. There’s also support for home office and coworking spaces, personal development, and more. 

14. Olark - $2,000 Annually on Learning, Monthly Internet Stipend, and Coworking Space Stipend

Employees at Olark have access to a professional development budget of $2,000 per year to spend on classes, software, books, and conferences. On top of this, there’s a coworking space stipend and a contribution towards monthly internet costs for remote workers. 

15. Balsamiq - $3,000 Annual Professional Development Programs Stipend

Software creator Balsamiq offers employees $3,000 per year towards conferences, books, and classes. Employees can also opt to use some of their working hours for exercise, professional development, or volunteering. 

16. Smartsheet - $1,000 Annual Learning Budget and Transport Stipend

Smartsheet offers its employees $1,000 per year to spend on learning and development. There’s also reimbursement on transportation, free online counseling and telehealth visits, plus a free subscription to Audible. 

17. Caseable - German Language Tuition Stipend

While Caseable is based in Berlin and doesn’t ask for German language proficiency, the company is happy to offer German classes for all employees. There’s also support for professional development through a “Never Stop Learning Program” and access to discounted gym memberships. 

18. Perfect Keto - $100 Monthly for Learning, $150 Monthly for Healthy Food, $250 Monthly for Fitness

Perfect Keto offers employees a range of learning and wellness benefits. These include monthly stipends of $100 for learning, $150 for healthy food, and $250 for fitness. Employees can also access mindfulness subscriptions, a Kindle and books, plus other wellness benefits. 

19. Kettle & Fire - Monthly Learning Stipend and Monthly Supply of Kettle and Fire Products

Kettle & Fire offers a mix of benefits to employees that includes a monthly stipend for courses, books, and one-on-one consulting. Employees can also take part in mindshares, company retreats, and get support with setting up a workspace. 

20. Duolingo - Annual Stipend for Professional Learning

Language software creators Duolingo has a supportive suite of benefits for employees. There’s a yearly career development stipend, as well as support for transportation costs. Other benefits include an annual retreat and a first-home buyer bonus. 

21. ChefHero - Career Development Stipend

Food service company ChefHero offers its employees a range of benefits, including a commitment to career development and growth opportunities. There’s also access to physical and mental health support, plus free lunches. 

Some professional development plans provide for home office supplies

22. Ada - Professional Learning Stipend 

Customer services company Ada actively encourages employees to expand their professional skills and networks by providing financial support. This means employees can take classes, attend conferences, obtain certifications, and more with their professional development stipend.

23. Rewind - $5,000 Annual Health, Fitness, and Professional Development Stipends

Rewind, an Ontario-based data backup company, offers employees a $300 per year allowance for health and fitness expenses. This is alongside a $5,000 annual allowance for professional development. 

24. Kiva - $750 for Continuous Education

International nonprofit Kiva gives employees a $750 stipend that can be spent on learning and development. Employees can use the stipend towards conferences, classes, and more. 

25. TED - Annual Professional Development Stipend

Standing behind its values, TED Conferences encourages employees to seek a deeper understanding of the world around them. To help employees do this, there’s an annual professional development stipend

26. DonorsChoose - Professional Growth Stipend

DonorsChoose abides by its mantra of helping others to learn by giving employees access to a learning stipend. Employees can use this stipend for professional growth and seek opportunities to learn in a flexible environment. 

27. Gilead Sciences - $5,250 Annually for Further Education

Gilead Sciences, a California-based biotech and pharmaceutical company, offers employees a budget to support their health and well-being. There's also an annual stipend of $5,250 for employees who want to pursue an undergraduate, graduate, or certificate courses at an accredited college or university.

Looking for more insights into company stipends? See our full list of 121 stipends offered by leading companies.

Bonus: If you’re looking for an easy way to manage stipends for your own team, you can get started with Hoppier for free!

Help Your Employees Shine With a Professional Development Stipend

Professional development truly matters. It positively impacts your employees as well as your company at large. Stipends are a powerful way to make professional development attainable while giving your employees the flexibility to learn and grow at their own pace.

Leading companies across the U.S. and beyond are now offering generous learning stipends alongside wellness benefits. There’s a real movement towards valuing the professional development of employees. This gives culture builders, human resources teams, and CEOs an opportunity to create a fun, learning-focused culture of curiosity. 

With Hoppier, you can easily manage your stipends and give your teams total control over their learning. To see how it all works, book a demo with us.

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