When I was growing up, my Dad was a college professor, teaching marine biology at Eckerd College in St. Pete, FL. He didn’t make a lot of money, but every 6 years, he got a semester off. During these times, we packed up and moved, temporarily, to places like Jamaica or Puget Sound where Dad got busy doing research and working on pet projects.
My father’s sabbaticals were my first experience with the idea, and I really didn’t comprehend it. The travel was fun, but I wondered, “Why would anyone need so much time off work?” Especially when he already had summers off. Not a bad deal, it seemed. I didn’t quite comprehend that a sabbatical was designed to be a break from the routine, an opportunity for mental and physical renewal and exploring creative pursuits
A sabbatical is not uncommon in certain fields. Academia is one, the priesthood is another. The rector of my church (our head priest) is on sabbatical right now. Every five years, he gets 14 weeks to restore his soul, and I’m happy for him. I think he and his family will be better off. He’ll be strengthened to follow his calling after a nice long stretch without the day to day demands of parish life. He has a chance to travel, study, pray and build bonds with his family.
If professors and priests need a restorative hiatus, why is sabbatical so uncommon in the business world? Don’t executives and entrepreneurs deserve a break, too? For the most part, the concept of sabbatical in the business world seems as foreign to corporate executives as it was to me as a child.
Business is all about squeezing more from less. Longer hours, lower pay, more productivity. But aren’t these precisely the types of pressures that cause people to wear down, lose their edge, and make mistakes? Unfortunately for many in the business world, sabbatical only comes between jobs. A couple of weeks of transition carved out during a voluntary job change, or a longer, unexpected break after a job loss is hardly the kind refreshing break that unleashes creativity and inspires innovation.
Some large companies do offer sabbaticals for selected employees, but it’s a hard perk to come by. An article on Fortune.com earlier this year cited FedEx, Genentech, and General Mills as three organizations to offer this long-term vacation.
Another website, YourSabbatical.com, offers a list of companies that provide sabbaticals, complete with a chart showing how much time is available. The duration varies from three weeks (just a long vacation) to a year (you might forget where you work).
Typically, sabbatical is a more common benefit in larger companies, but entrepreneurs might want to consider incorporating a sabbatical program into their own companies. It can be hard to think about living without key employees, but imagine how much more valuable they can be if they have a chance to recharge their batteries every few years. If the break is well planned, and incorporates some aspect of their career, such as research, work on a special project, or learning a new skill, employees are likely to come back ready to forge ahead and contribute even more.
As the boss, you might benefit from a sabbatical as well. I got an email auto-reply today from an old friend, Tricia, who has spent several years building a successful business. She also has a pre-teen daughter, and I was thrilled to see that Tricia is on sabbatical until mid-August. I know she’ll be spending quality time with her family. And I’m confident she’ll also be spending time thinking about the next stage of her business life and will be an even more powerful force when she returns.
How about you? Have you ever taken a sabbatical, or worked somewhere that offered them? If so, share your story and views in the comments.
Image by Chi Le on stock.xchng.