Productive employees who are fully engaged, proud to be part of the team and fully committed to staying is a common goal for many managers. Yet with all the buzz and new initiatives on retention and employee engagement, I think we have all forgotten a very valuable tool that has been around for ages. We may have tweaked it, changed it’s name or form but the basic concept remains the same. We all need time out of our hectic lives to recharge our batteries. And a 2 week vacation sometimes just doesn’t cut it.
Sabbatical leaves root back as far as biblical times. The word Sabbatical comes from the word “Sabbath” referring to a time of rest in cycles of 7. For the working world, this often referred only to academics when they would take a sabbatical every 7 years. Today, the sabbatical leave has evolved to not only include universities but also a wide array of other fields and professions. In many other countries, taking time off to rejuvenate and explore the world is common. In the UK, many people take what is known as an “adult gap year” or “career break”. Forward thinking companies in Canada are now realizing the benefits that are associated with giving employees an extended period of time off beyond a standard 2 or 3 week vacation a year. Travel Cuts, a Canadian owned company, now markets a “career break” program. One recent “career breaker” from this program says of his experience “Anytime you find time to travel I find it enhances your knowledge of the world and how we are truly lucky to be living in Canada. It also enhanced my career as I was able to compare government services in different countries and share the knowledge with my superiors. I was also able to relate better with clients and colleagues of different backgrounds?”
Some employees take this time to volunteer and make an impact on a global scale. Sure companies have local fundraising and charity events, but some employees want to make a difference on a larger scale. If you let an employee take 6 weeks off to volunteer in Nepal to help build medical centres, what does that say about your company? It’s one thing to have a plaque on the company wall boasting you genuinely care about your employees, it’s another to give them the freedom to actually pursue their passions. Anne Fisher, writer at Fortune magazine, writes on how Fortune 100 companies attract and retain Gen Xers. Autodesk, a software company, defies the Silicon Valley norm of workaholism: The company gives its employees six-week sabbaticals every four years and paid time off every month to do volunteer work. According to her article, “Gen Xers love this, because they want to make a difference”.
In today’s fast paced working world filled with blackberries, instant messaging, and social media outlets we are all struggling to wear multiple hats and juggle priorities. “Flexible workplace strategies benefit both the employer and its employees,” said Rochelle Morandini, a senior consultant in Hewitt Canada’s organizational health practice. “These programs, coupled with supportive managers and aligned corporate behaviours, can alleviate conflicting demands, enable employees to enjoy a healthier lifestyle, create a more productive workforce, and even improve overall organizational performance.” Giving employees the ability to take a “sabbatical” or “career break” may be one of the most underutilized tools in recruiting, retaining, and engaging employees. Yet, forward thinking companies and those making the Best employers to work for, Top 100 lists continually cite having extended leave programs as part of their overall strategy. Coincidence or not?