The Value of a Corporate Sabbatical

The Value of a Corporate Sabbatical
Thomas Thompson
April 12, 2022
min read
“Sabbaticals are companies' latest weapon against the Great Resignation.” --Anne Kadet, Fortune Magazine March 15th 2022

Employers seeking to retain top talent, stave off burnout, and fight record turnover levels post-Covid are turning to creative solutions (flexible hours, remote work, unlimited time off).

But a growing number are finding success in offering extended time away, or Sabbaticals.

Goldman Sachs, Patagonia, Adobe, Genentech, and McDonalds all offer some form of sabbatical leave.  In 2021, Citi launched a 12 week sabbatical program for employees.  Over 200 employees have taken this sabbatical, returning more “energized and engaged.”

How could Sabbaticals help employees and employers?

  • Sabbaticals rejuvenate employees.  They provide the opportunity to stop, rest, and recharge for the next season.
  • Sabbaticals strengthen the client-company relationship.  They ensure clients are loyal to the firm, not just individual partners.  
  • Sabbaticals empower teams.  Preparing for a key player’s absence requires developing the team around them, lifting the lid on leadership.  And often these tasks that are delegated are not taken back upon the leader’s return, allowing them to focus efforts on more high value responsibilities.
  • Sabbaticals help uncover when broader organizational change is needed.  They give fresh hands and eyes on projects and processes.  They uncover hindrances to productivity, such as overdependence on certain staff.
  • Sabbaticals spark conversations.  They create space around how to best use that employee to serve the company in more focused and productive ways.

Sabbaticals bring the leader back, better.

But what about when a leader doesn’t want to come back?

A recent survey reveals that 20% of professionals who take extended leave do not return to the company.  

But is this a bad thing?   Or does it show that time and space was needed–and overdue–for them to reevaluate their work identity and how best to steward their leadership for the next season of life?

Most people who take extended time off from work suffer from “functional workaholism.”  Sabbaticals expose the unstainable ways we approach our work, and allow a “reset” to healthier and more productive rhythms.  

What separates a sabbatical from a vacation? 

  • A vacation is a break from work; a sabbatical is a guided process of active rest, where one disengages to enter a serious evaluation of life and work.
  • Vacations may have rest as a goal; sabbaticals exist to intentionally refresh and retrain more sustainable rhythms of work and life.
  • Vacations are unsupervised, “free” time; sabbaticals contain an element of supervision by advisors for both the leader and the organization.

The Wall Street Journal recently captured this example of the power of a sabbatical:

Juraj Pal, former head of product at the polling-software startup Slido, was living in New York City last winter and had spent six years with his company from its early days. Over time, work had become his entire identity. “If you invited me for dinner and asked me who I am, I would talk about the company, and if you asked me if I had hobbies, I’d say, ‘I don’t have hobbies,’ and I’d even feel good about it,” said Mr. Pal, 28.

As the startup went through a reorganization and a subsequent acquisition by Cisco Systems Inc. Mr. Pal started to feel he was no longer a good match for the culture. He ended up in a conversation with the startup’s CEO at the time, Peter Komornik, who suggested a real break.

“My first response was I didn’t want to hear about it. Any extended time off was somehow a sign of failure, a sign of weakness even.” — Juraj Pal, former head of product at the polling-software startup Slido.

He worked through that resistance with his executive coach as well as his wife and best

friend, both of whom worked at the company. He eventually agreed to take several months off last spring. It took weeks for him to turn off his brain from work. A month in, he and his wife rented a place in Lake Tahoe, where he spent time hiking with his dog and participating in career

development groups. Mr. Pal’s boss proposed he come back to a different role, which he did. 

Yes, Sabbaticals are an investment.  A large investment.  But the ROI when you put your employees’ long-term sustainability as a priority is high.  

If you are considering investing in your organization’s health through a Sabbatical Policy,  why not leverage that investment for all it is worth by engaging a Sabbatical Coach? 

A sabbatical can be simply extended time off.  Or, with guidance, it can be leveraged to be a truly restorative experience. A Sabbatical Coach can help structure the time away, prepare the team so the time away does not become a burden, and help the employee debrief during reentry to focus on the new goals, workflow, and vision that will help them provide greater effectiveness, stewardship, and longevity.

The sabbatical begins months before the leave actually starts.  Plan ahead.  Be intentional.

What is your next step in investing in the longevity of your team? 

Thomas coaches leaders and organizations through restorative sabbaticals. If he can help you, reach out to him here.

Photo by Adeolu Eletu on Unsplash

I founded Thompson Leadership to come alongside leaders like you. Together, we will unpack your unique leadership, unearth your biggest challenge, and create an action plan to close the gap between where you are and where you want to be.
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