Being told not to learn

Let’s say you’ve got an employee who you find out is spending a lot of their time learning something outside of their job duties, let’s say, data science or something that can potentially double or triple their salary if they could land a job. Their current job of doing rate filings just isn’t cutting it. What do you, as a manager, do?

I think you should transfer them to doing DS work and then double or triple their salary. Yet, I don’t see this being done very often. It’s more likely that the employee finds no opportunities internally that match what they can command and then they leave, and the company loses talent.

What’s the appropriate solution? I ask this because this has happened to me before as an employee, where I looked up what skills were commanding high salaries and started learning them. When management caught on to what I was doing, they told me to stop doing that and focus on Excel because that’s what the rest of the department was doing. They kind of just saw it as a lack of commitment and teamwork on my part. I didn’t think that was in my best interest, so I ignored them, kept learning what I wanted to learn and then left for double.

Of course, maybe if they let me work on something that was in my domain and paid me not double, but even 50% more, I would have stayed.

Many companies will pay for higher degrees that may lead to someone moving on, or moving out of a department.

The situation I see with you is two fold (three fold)

  1. What was your ability with Excel? Maybe they felt you were putting your emphasis in a place while your abilities weren’t sufficcient where they should be

  2. Was this additional study on Company time?

  3. Most advance study programs are also with company permission if taking company time and many are willing to compensate for them as well

I would be upset if an employee is spending time studying stuff not for his job, if I didm’t feel he excelled at his job.

Everyone here gets one day a week to focus on learning/taking courses, you can probably guess how I feel about this.

Two of our co-op students who are programmers are spending their day a week learning about online marketing so being well rounded is fine with me - doesn’t have to be directly related to their job as long as it advances their overall career.

I’d also be upset if my employee learned the skills outside of work but implemented them at work in a way that could introduce risk to the team- for example if they learned Python and did all their work in Python when it could have been done in Excel and they are the only person on the team that knows Python. Hard to quality check and hard to hand off the process for whatever reason as needed = additional risk


I was pretty much the Excel expert of the department but I switched to better technologies and haven’t really touched it since 2014 and it became obsolete many years before that. That’s how far behind the curve and out of touch they were on these things.

And when the pay difference is so vast, what incentive is there for me to go backwards? How can I be content with mediocre Excel expert pay?

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My first job out of college used a bunch of SAS, data analysis but it wasn’t actuarial. After about 18 months I started studying for the first actuarial exam but was very secretive about it because my firm didn’t employ any actuaries and I didn’t want to leave until I’d passed two exams (and who knew if I could even pass the first!?). I remember doing FM questions in my downtime at work in the weeks leading up to the exam and then “smuggling” them home with me.

It’s gotten pretty comical how wide the pay gap can be for early career. To the point where I see people simply quitting without anything lined up to study leetcode while being unemployed and then getting their pay multiplied even after taking a demotion.

That was kind of my problem. When your skill and market value are incompatible with the rest of the department, what is there to do? Not saying I was “better” but simply just picking up different things that could increase my pay. Is leaving the only option?

I have found that this can be something to pay attention to. It depends pretty significantly on the company but there are some departments/companies where if your comp becomes significantly mismatched with what the department can handle or the companies pay bands the only solution may be to move on.

Similiar experience here. I was hired, with no exams, for a position advertised as ASA required. Then I wasn’t given any exam support.
PAssed my first two exams under my own steam.

was this learning new things being done at work or in personal time?

Personal time - f off, you work for an idiot.

Work time - if you are proficient at the tech/skills/knowledge needed for your role already, and the new stuff is tangentially related to work in the field/company, then f off, you work for a closed minded dufus.

if you are proficient and the stuff is UNrelated to work (practicing piano) then get to work and play piano at home.

if you are NOT proficient then the work time should be spent getting better at the stuff needed for your role. establish the baseline norms of expected skills or else it is clear you aren’t really into this role.

my 2 cents

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Leaving is often the only option especially at larger companies or stagnant companies. The larger companies need job descriptions that target the average worker. The large companies have so much work they have to isolate their innovation to keep from going in too many directions at once and to avoid outpacing the skills of the bulk of their workforce. If you can get into their department that generates their innovations, whatever that may be, you can really excel within the company which is good for them and you.
Stagnant companies do not embrace innovation because they fear innovation may threaten an important cashflow. They lock into their old ways and milk them for all the profits they can. That cashflow may eventually die but that is way in the future in their minds. Use a job with a company like this as a stepping stone. Develop your skills outside the job then get the hell out if you want to stay up on the industry.

  1. Sell your work product for the best price you can get.
  2. Improve your work product to be as valuable to you as you can keeping in mind that what you value may not get the best price.
  3. Save your loyalty for people not for corporations.

It sounds like you are doing business right, if your employer can’t keep up get a new employer.


As a manager I’d do my best to try to keep this employee and leverage their skills. Unfortunately, in most cases the employee’s direct manager doesn’t have either the ability or the clout to actually offer the employee what their new skills deserve. In fact, even if the employee tries to move to a different department, HR won’t be willing to increase their salary because the employee is jumping too many pay bands. At least, this is my experience. I’ve known a lot of people that changed roles due to a new degree or designation or whatever where they wouldn’t be compensated in the role they had. I experienced the same thing when I finished grad school but my management “had to reward the new ASAs and FSAs first.” They were shocked when I left the department for a non-actuarial role that gave me a 20% bump in pay. You need to pay talent what they are worth and if you are talent you need to seek out who will pay you for your skills.


What confuses me is how can someone be shocked at something like this when it has been going on for decades? Even new employees and college students who haven’t started working know this.

I think the answer is two fold, with no evidence to back up my opinion.

First, embeddedness is a thing. Most people don’t like to move jobs because the known is more comfortable than the unknown. In addition, it used to be hard for a skilled worker to find a better job without relocating. Where I live, there are only two big health insurers. So if I want to continue working in health insurance and I want to stay where my kids are in school and family is nearish, I kind of only had two choices. That narrows opportunities and makes moving on more difficult and managers know that.

Second, many managers have risen through the ranks and have not needed to change employers to advance. This tempers their view of how people get promotions and pay raises. So they think that if you are patient, then you will get what you deserve.

In my case, leaving shouldn’t have been a surprise at all. In two of my annual reviews I told my boss I was looking for a promotion and that if I didn’t get it, I’d have to look elsewhere. The first time I was told they had to take care of the actuaries first. The second time I was told that promotions were now being done off of the annual review cycle. At the third review, when incompetent actuaries and my boss were promoted (my boss was not incompetent) but I wasn’t I found a new position without any discussion. Frankly, I waited two years longer than I should have but I really did like both my team and the work I was doing. That team didn’t learn their lesson though. One of my former teammates just the left the team for basically the same reasons I did.


At work, but I would say it kind of went like this.

Management: “let’s do data science! It’s the way of the future. CS, you’re on point.”

Me, as a young lad: Opens up book on predictive modeling. Starts learning things about databases, Python, R, SQL, stats, etc.

Me: “In order to do this we need all these languages and also a server with a database and a team to build it which should have been done a few years before asking me to do this because otherwise we’re not ready for this kind of work.”

Management: “You need to do this in Excel because that’s what everyone else understands and uses. You’re spending too much time learning technologies we don’t have.”

Me: Leaves and gets paid more.


In their defense, this was way back in the day when these technologies were relatively unknown and it is only in hindsight that it was obvious that they were going to be needed to do the work, but at the time I had a strong hunch that the field was trending in that direction.

Part of the breakdown of the relationship was my inability to communicate why we needed to do things in a certain way. Another is that it’s harder to believe an exam taking analyst over more experienced fellows. And yet another was that DS was also new to me, so my ability to articulate the importance of doing something this way or that was still in its infancy. But, with companies throwing much more money my way for even the most basic of skills, leaving was a no-brainer.

But now the old company has evolved to the point where I suppose maybe they have adopted these technologies, skills, and new ways of doing things, probably through a combination of trial and error and also through hiring more external talent who were better persuaders. For this reason I do wonder if things could have been salvageable, but of course I don’t feel good about them not listening to me at the time and not the new people or only coming to their senses after the old ways didn’t work.

In the late 90’s I did a proposal to the VP of sales on getting agents on board the internet wrt selling life insurance. VP threw it in the garbage. I followed the proposal with my resignation letter, went and did it myself.
VP was somewhat right. 2021 I had a conversation with that company wrt the internet and got told ‘it’s not really in line with our target market’. 20 years later I guess they’re conservatively waiting to see if this internet thing takes off and there I was rushing things.
I did get some good news from one company. C-suite was having a meeting about the internet, and a friend of mine in the meeting said “instead of waiting like we always do, why don’t we look into this now so that when the internet does take off, we’re ready?” and they actually got a consensus to do just that. And since they’re already familiar with me, I got the inquiry phone call. Had a conversation, and they love what I suggested (unlike 1.5 years ago when I suggested the same thing and was told that they weren’t really into that right now lol).

Yes. Stop whining about people not giving you things you think you deserve.

Next question with an obvious answer.

Quick story: I quit a job that wouldn’t upgrade its Windows PC number to three (I was sharing with others, came from a Windows company where each employee had their own PC. Now, it also wouldn’t send me to SOA meetings for CE, and it decided to hire outside consultants to be the assigned actuaries that cost way more than meetings and PCs.
I wrote my requests, gave them to the person in charge (not an actuary, but the Chief Actuary who was merely an underwriter), had my resignation letter ready to submit when (not if) they declined my professional advice, left for some other company who was going to pay me a lot more.
The old company went out of business three years later, after they attempted to upgrade all their systems, annually paying some consultant WAY more than they were actually making in profit.


:laughing: reminds me of the “That’s not how this works” meme