When Employers Pay Association Dues, Workers and Company Benefit

Here’s how to make the case for why employer-paid dues benefit employees and the company

Stephen Miller, CEBS By Stephen Miller, CEBS September 19, 2019
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​Paying employees' professional association dues and credentialing or licensing fees is an investment in an engaged and loyal workforce that employers should consider making, so it's surprising that the percentage of organizations that offer to make these payments on behalf of employees has fallen off in recent years.

This year, 83 percent of randomly polled Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) members said their employers pay dues for professional memberships at organizations such as SHRM—down from 91 percent in 2015, according to the research report Programs and Services, part of the SHRM 2019 Employee Benefits series. There was also a falloff among employers that pay employees' professional certification and license fees.

(Click on graphics to view in a separate window.)

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SHRM's 2019 Employee Benefits survey was conducted March 31 to April 30. This year's results, compiled from data that included the responses of 2,763 SHRM members, were presented in a series of online reports.

More small organizations—those with fewer than 100 employees—pay for professional memberships than larger organizations (84 percent versus 77 percent, respectively). Small organizations are also more likely than large companies to pay credentialing and licensing fees.

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"Professional development benefits offerings tend to differ relatively strongly on the basis of organization size, with small organizations offering a different benefit mix of professional development benefits than large organizations," said Cate Supinski, a specialist in strategic research initiatives at SHRM and author of the Programs and Services report. For instance, because small organizations may be less generous with core benefits covering health and retirement, professional dues and related fees may be seen as an area in which, for a modest expense, they can be more generous.

Big companies offer more onsite professional development opportunities—77 percent of large employers did so this year versus 63 percent of small organizations.

"For smaller organizations, they simply don't have the money, time or staff to have large, in-house training programs or PD [professional development] offerings," Supinski said. "For these employers, paying for things like licensure or certification fees is something that they can do to support the development of their employees without having to build out a larger program."

She noted that findings from SHRM research on organizational culture, released in September, show that "many organizations are looking at what they can do from that perspective"—improving company culture—"to retain employees, rather than through benefits."

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Developing Employees]

Peers Provide Advice

Professional dues was the topic of a recent SHRM Connect discussion, in which an anonymous poster wrote that he or she had "e-mailed my boss twice asking if the company would pay for my membership renewal" but received no response, and "though tempted to ask again will not."

Among the responses from other SHRM members who posted anonymously:

  • "My company paid for mine during the first year and I joined a local chapter, became a board member, was actively involved and demonstrated how I used their resources to benefit the company, and she had no issues renewing my membership. Is there any way you can demonstrate the benefits for them?"
  • "I was new to my company when my membership was due, so I paid mine. After my 90 days, and when I had my review, I told my boss the value of my SHRM membership and how I use it for the company. I asked for reimbursement and said that if I were to leave the company … I would prorate and pay back. He didn't think that was necessary, but that was my pitch. ... In any event, the company reimbursed."

Another SHRM member suggested that e-mail may not be the best way to make this request, and that asking to discuss the matter in person with the supervisor could be more effective.

Membership Teams Can Help

Association marketers may be able to provide people who want to join a professional development association but lack the funds with justifications they can take to their employer when asking that the company pay their dues, according to Callie Walker, senior inbound marketing specialist at MemberClicks, a membership management software provider.

"In some situations, starting with the 'what' makes sense, but in this particular situation, starting with the 'why' can often be more effective," Walker advised. For example, she suggested that a professional start by making a pitch along these lines:

I'm really interested in developing professionally. As you know, the industry is constantly changing—in terms of technology, regulations and best practices—and I want to make sure I stay on top of those things so that I can do my job to the best of my ability.

"Employers want their staff members to be effective in their jobs, so hearing this should pique their interest," Walker noted.

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