Personal Development Outside the Workplace

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This free guide provides advice and ideas for personal development outside the workplace, as a means to improve an individual’s current level of knowledge, skills and behaviours.

Examples of such opportunities include:

  • Committee membership for a professional institution (local or national)
  • Committee membership for a university, college or school
  • Committee membership for a special interest club or society
  • Active member of a business best practice association
  • Appointment as a non-executive board or lay member for a company or charitable body
  • Representative on a local civic, health, or government group
  • Representative on a church / religious order group
  • Leader for a young persons’ group such as scouts
  • Volunteering within the community, hospital, hospice, charity
  • Volunteering with reserved forces
  • Sports coach, referee, event organiser

Each one of these experiences provides an individual with excellent opportunities for personal development.

NOTE: As part of the process for considering the suitability of some of the above options, the individual should consider if their employer has an HR policy that may relate to pursuing that option, such as ‘volunteering with reserved forces’. In such cases, the individual should consult the relevant HR policy to ensure avoidance of potential ‘conflicts of interest’ and for guidance on any special leave arrangements that may be applicable. An individual’s manager must also approve in advance any time-off arrangements that may be applicable.


The benefits of such development opportunities are similar to ‘on-the-job’ assignments, except the individual needs to undertake some interpretation of the learning experiences in order to transfer this into their job accountabilities. The similarity is focused around ‘learning by doing’, with experience being the best teacher.



Outside the workplace and volunteering opportunities, if selected carefully, can all be utilised to play an effective role in stimulating learning and growth through challenge-driven experiences

Utilisation of outside the workplace opportunities should not be considered as cheap or inferior options when compared to options such as attendance at workshops or conferences. Their selection can often be blended with other options to help maximise the overall impact on personal development and performance results.



  • Identify the personal development need and consider the most suitable blend of development opportunities to support this need.
  • Be completely open-minded to the potential value of ‘outside the workplace’ opportunities in comparison with other development options.


  • When an ‘outside the workplace’ opportunity seems to be quite a strong option, consider what types of opportunity may be possible.
  • Generate as many options as possible using a brain-storming approach with a colleague, learning buddy, friend, partner or manager. Aim for quantity, and try not to be judgemental at this stage.
  • Review and evaluate each opportunity in turn by applying a rating for strength of alignment to your original personal development need, and key practical factors such as availability of opportunity, physical demands, costs, work-life balance, strength of personal interest etc


  • Review the results of the rating exercise and produce a short-list of the most suitable opportunities.
  • Explore the suitability of the short-listed opportunities in more detail by:
    • additional in-depth research
    • consideration against your main personal development objective
    • fit with other options you plan to blend with
    • response from others you requested feedback from
    • consideration as a result of reviewing any applicable HR policy
  • Select the most suitable option and progress application, enrolment, sponsorship for election etc through to actual participation in the selected activity.


  • Implement your selected ‘outside the workplace’ or volunteering opportunity
  • Feel free to experiment, for example:
    • If your development objective was to ‘build your confidence’ and
    • You selected participation in an amateur dramatics group and
    • You commenced with a role in the group’s chorus line, then
    • You could progress and audition for a lead role in a forthcoming production
  • Continually reflect upon your ‘outside the workplace’ experiences and draw learning from them that you feel confident in being able to transfer back into your job role.
  • Maintain a logbook of these learning experiences to assist with the transfer of skills.


  • ransfer the learning you gained from your ‘outside the workplace’ experiences, together with the learning you obtained from other blended options, to your job accountabilities. Obtain feedback from your manager, learning buddy, or colleagues on actual performance.
  • Evaluate this feedback, together with your own assessment, against the original development objective and assess the need for any further development to improve performance to the preferred standard.


As part of the process for implementing ‘outside the workplace’ opportunities the individual should agree SMART development objectives. These should include quantifiable factors that can be used for evaluation.


The examples in the following table illustrate a small selection of ‘outside the workplace’ opportunities that could be used to stimulate an individual’s thoughts when deciding the most suitable option for their needs. The following development needs focus on a range of example behaviours.

Examples of Development Needs
Possible ‘outside the workplace’ Development Opportunities
Information Search
  • Best-Practice Associations
  • Committee Member – Professional Association
Creating Business Solutions
  • Non-Executive Director
  • Committee Member – Fund raising group
Flexible Thinking
  • Committee Member – Fund raising group
  • Local Stock holder group
Building Relationships
  • Committee Member – Community Group i.e. Rotary
  • Civic Community Representative
  • Non-Executive Director
  • Volunteer Leader – Reserved Forces
Developing People
  • Sports coach
  • Leader for young persons’ group e.g. Scouts
  • Counsellor for Samaritans
  • Civic Community Representative
Building Confidence
  • Amateur dramatics society
  • Mountain, Lake, Sea Rescue team
  • Amateur dramatics society
  • Hospice, Hospital Volunteer
Enable & Drive Change
  • Best Practice Association
  • University / College / School Governor



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Written by Stephen A Isherwood