I don’t have time to learn anything while
I’m working! – But why?

QualityMinds | News | QualityLearning

“I don’t have time to learn anything while I am working!”
(Pretty much every employee, every year)

As Learning Consultants, we – that’s Theresa and Max – are working as specialists in the field of learning at various companies, supporting organizations, teams and individuals in their development. When it comes to the topic of learning, one of the most common phrases we hear is, “I don’t have time to learn anything while I am working!”

You may be nodding your head right now because you feel the same way, or because you’ve heard this phrase more than once. But why is that the case? And is it really like that? We investigated these questions to find out what employees really mean by naming this sentiment.

Let’s start by saying: whenever we work with people in various situations, each situation is different and brings its own prerequisites and challenges. Nevertheless, we would like to show you the interplay between learning and time in the company using a specific case. However, that doesn’t mean that it always has to be like this!

Let’s take an employee from a project – let’s call her Mika. Mika works as a project manager in a digitization project and is thus employed full-time. Her working time per week is just enough to handle all the tasks that arise. Mika is also currently facing the challenge that she feels she can’t really help the team. She therefore first approaches the HR development department, describes the problem and asks for support in order to improve. The department sends Mika an offer for a two-day “how-to-be-a-perfect project manager” workshop, which is to take place in three weeks. But Mika doesn’t actually want to wait that long, and besides, with her current workload, she also “just doesn’t have time to spend two days learning.”

So Mika takes action herself and first reflects on the situation. She realizes that perhaps the real challenge might be that she is not adding any real value to the team and the project in the meetings. Mika therefore does her own research using Google and YouTube to set up the next team meetings in such a way that real added value can be generated for the entire team as a result. She immediately tries out the new procedure.

So what actually happened here? Mika’s rejection of the workshop, which she colloquially refers to as “learning,” highlights several fundamental problems.

In a two-day project management workshop, Mika would hear about the role and activities of a project manager, together with many other participants in a “one-size-fits-most” format. Certainly there would be content on meeting design, but Mika would not really need most of the content offered, since she has already worked as a project manager for several years and is familiar with it. Additionally, the workshop is not scheduled to take place for another three weeks, but Mika already has the problem today and wants to solve it as soon as possible.

In our opinion, it is exactly this understanding of ‘learning’, namely spending valuable working time on something that is either not useful or offered at the wrong time, that is meant when employees say they ‘don’t have time’ for it. And to be honest: That’s exactly what we really shouldn’t call learning.

Instead, Mika learns on-the-job out of a challenge and without perhaps explicitly calling it that way. From a theoretical teaching/learning perspective, we would describe this as a self-directed learning process, which can also be referred to with the term pull principle. The pull principle describes the fact that a person independently “pulls” content and materials in order to learn with them.

We understand learning as an intrapersonal process, which is usually demand-oriented, practice-oriented and individualized.

Finally, here comes our tip:

The next time someone tells you that there is no time to learn, ask them what they really mean by that. It is likely that what this person means is not really learning itself. Instead, they simply don’t want to spend their valuable time doing things that don’t help them get ahead.

And that’s exactly why it’s so incredibly important to think about learning from the individual person’s point of view. As learning consultants we try to achieve this by first finding out together with the learners what is really important to them and why. In our “Agile Learning” and “Agile Teaching” approaches, the focus is therefore consistently on the learners. Because then

Because then – as our experience as agile learning coaches, among others, has shown – employees in companies are gladly taking the time to learn.


written by

Maximilian Höldl und Theresa Heublein