For many smart companies, encouraging employees to continue their education by offering tuition reimbursement is a surefire way to keep employees happy, growing and, for the company, incentivise employees to stick around. For their employees, they get to expand their skills and knowledge, allowing them to get promotions, pay increases and new responsibilities-- sometimes for free!
It’s a win-win.
But it’s not always easy to understand where your company stands on tuition reimbursement. While some offer 100% reimbursement, others may offer little or no support.
So how do you go about finding out if your company reimburses for additional education?
Consult the handbook
When you received your job offer, you were probably given a copy of the employee handbook which covers everything from vacation and sick leave policies to how to prepare an expense report-- and everything in between.
Read through your employee handbook before you ask around the office so you can be sure you’ll get the right answers. Many handbooks will have some mention of tuition reimbursement, how the payout is structured and any qualifications necessary to access their reimbursement program.
Typically there will be a minimum amount of years worked at the company, a limitation on certain courses and a mention of the amount the company will cover and when the reimbursement occurs. Make sure you know what will be covered. For example, will they also cover course materials like books and supplies-- or is it only tuition?
Do your research
What is it exactly you’re hoping to gain from this additional training and education? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Why do you need this extra boost?
It might be helpful to create a personal SWOT analysis to help you identify your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. For example, if you’re a strong leader (strength) who lacks an understanding of departments outside of your own (weakness) but is eligible for a promotion in a year (opportunity)-- and an up-and-coming person in your department is making waves (threat), you have a much better idea of the training and education you need to receive.
Understand based on the limitations and allowances in the policy what program makes sense. Asking to attend art school as an accountant may not be something they’re willing to pay for-- but a marketing professional who is working on becoming a leader could benefit from leadership and management training.
Before you ever speak to your boss or HR partner that you truly understand the route you want to take. They’ll want to see a high level of commitment and interest-- and walking in not knowing anything about the courses or direction you desire doesn’t portray a high level of interest.
This is also a perfect time to look at your own career. Understand where you want to go and do and how this education and training will help you get there. Look at the company’s goals and trajectory. How will this training help you contribute to the company’s future?
Approaching your manager
Tuition reimbursement usually needs to be cleared by managers, directors or HR and if your employee handbook made no mention of reimbursement, this is your best next step to get the answers you need. However, some employees may find it a tricky conversation.
On one hand, you’re asking your company to shell out extra expenses and maybe even offer a little extra flexibility if you need to leave early for a class or project. Your company doesn’t want to pay for the education and training of someone who may leave and work for their competitor a few short weeks after graduation.
On the other hand, your company should realise that having educated team members with relevant training is hugely beneficial. It results in less turnover and more effective employees. In-the-know companies understand the potential benefits.
Make sure you know how to speak with your manager or HR representative when discussing your idea for the best results.
Here’s how to approach the conversation.
- Show your boss or HR partner how this training will affect your position and daily work.
- Highlight your recent accomplishments.
- Give specific examples of how this additional training and education would affect your team and the entire organisation.
- Know the details. Have a program or path in mind and know the tuition price, length of time and any other factors.
- Come armed with facts and good arguments. Appeal to their logical and emotional side.
- Learn if there have been any other changes to the tuition reimbursement policy.
- Ask for advice. They’ll be happy you see them as a resource!
- Make it all about you. Your manager needs to understand why they should invest in you.
- Come in unprepared. Help them understand this is something you’re committed to.
- Suggest you’ll quit or be unhappy without this reimbursement. Show them you’re in this for the long haul.
- Lead with costs. They need to understand the benefits of additional education and not fixate on the price.
- Ignore their concerns. Be ready to address any concerns or objections they may have.
Once you’ve been cleared for tuition reimbursement, it’s time to get signed up for classes and begin learning! Keep all of your transcripts, receipts and other documents organised so you can turn them in for reimbursement. Know the deadlines for reimbursement and stay in contact with your manager or HR partner to ensure you’re following the procedures necessary to have your tuition covered.
Continuing your education is one of the best strategies for excelling in your career, growing and preventing mid-career plateaus. Without learning, it’s like Tony Robbins said, "If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten!”
Your investment in time and energy will pay off for the rest of your personal and professional life and, maybe best of all, you’ll be getting a heavily discounted or free education.