Wow, You Get A Sabbatical?

Image: Wow, You Get A Sabbatical?

The Benefits of a Work Sabbatical

This weekend, while chatting with a friend, they mentioned that one of their friends is coming to visit for a while. When I asked how long they would be staying in town, the reply was ‘I don’t know, he’s on sabbatical’.  I jumped to the conclusion that this person might be a faculty member at a university or someone who worked in the education sector.  But, in fact, he is a government employee who can take a 1 year sabbatical. The rest of our group oohed and ahhed about how amazing it would be to be able to take that much time away from work and what a great employment perk that is. I began to think about how organizations could leverage this concept in order to increase engagement and performance.

Leave Options

It is becoming increasingly common that employees take some form of leave from work at one point in their career.  This may be maternity, paternity, bereavement or compassionate leave.  In these cases, it may be time off with or without pay.  In these scenarios many organizations provide employees with a portion of their salaries.

Federal government employees also have the option of taking a leave of absence without pay.  This provides employees with the flexibility to focus on things other than their current work while away from the workplace.

In some organizations, employee can take a leave with income averaging.  This allows employees to reduce the number of weeks worked in a specific 12-month period by taking leave without pay at a later time, usually to maximum of 3 months. The employees’ pay is reduced and averaged out over the 12-month period to reflect the reduced time at work. A friend of mine who is a teacher and artist opted to do this so she could focus her time on painting.  She loved the experience so much that she is planning to do it again.

Finally, some employers offer a self-funded leave which allows employees to defer a per cent of their gross salary in order to fund a period of absence from work. Following the absence, employees return to their regular employment.

Why It’s A Good Idea To Take A Break

According to the Society of Human Resource Management, paid sabbatical programs are offered only at 5% of U.S. companies. Yet, nearly 25% of the employers on Fortune‘s 100 Best Companies to Work For in 2012 offered paid sabbaticals.

Providing employees with an opportunity to step away from the business and their day-to-day roles is a good idea for a number reasons:

  • It retains high performing employees by providing them with an opportunity to take a break without having to leave the organizational permanently
  • It sparks greater creativity and innovation by allowing employees to have new experiences
  • It allows existing employees  to step up and explore new areas of their development by assuming the role or tasks as an ‘acting’ leader
  • Employees return to the organization and their roles feeling reinvigorated

While your organization may not be able to offer an extended sabbatical to all employees, consider how you can help support employees to take a longer break away from work and to encourage them to relax, rejuvenate and return with fresh idea, increased enthusiasm and focus.  Since the average employee leaves 3.2 vacation days unused and various estimates say anywhere from 40 percent to two-thirds of employees fail to use all their vacation time, the best way to take a break is to book some paid time off with vacation time.  A report last year from the Center for Economic and Policy Research showed that 25 percent of employees take no vacation time at all!

While we may not all take a year off to travel, or a few months off to follow our passion, we can each maximize our vacation time to unplug, unwind and gain a fresh perspective.  Time away is not wasted or unproductive, it allows employees to gain balance in their lives and re-commit to your business when they return. With that, I will go back to packing my bags for my next vacation.

Giselle Kovary

As president and co-founder of n-gen People Performance Inc., Giselle is dedicated to building strategies and programs that target, motivate and engage a multigenerational workforce. She is a sought after resource to industry leaders, having worked with 18 of the top Fortune 500 companies. Over 60,000 people globally have experienced an n-gen workshop or presentation. She has devoted more than fifteen years to researching the impact that generational differences have on organizational performance. Giselle has co-authored two books: Loyalty Unplugged: How to Get, Keep & Grow All Four Generations and Upgrade Now: 9 Advanced Leadership Skills. She has a Master’s degree in communication studies from the University of Windsor.

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