Karen Charlesworth from the Chartered Management Institute argues that sabbaticals can reduce job stress, rejuvenate employees, and protect an organisation’s long-term investment in its people.
Once the perogative of teachers and professors, the recent announcement that Tim Martin, chairman of the JD Wetherspoon pub chain is taking an unpaid sabbatical, may encourage others to follow suit.
But sabbaticals aren’t only for big corporations. According to Institute research, one in six organisations are seeing the benefits they provide to hard-working employees – and the bottom line.
One glove fits all?
Ranging in time from a few months to a year, organisations introduce sabbaticals for a variety of reasons. They might want to encourage future high performance or to reward valued service in the past. Or they might have some specific social or economic objective.
Sabbaticals to combat workplace stress
Because few companies are immune to stress – 13 million working days a year are lost to work-related stress, according to the Health and Safety Executive – many now look to sabbaticals as an answer. A quick scan around your office will reveal many of the classic signs of stress: a loss of interest in one’s work, irritability and more frequent absenteeism. While some might view these symptoms as the “corporate facts of life”, a growing number of companies do recognise that the stress placed on employees can affect performance and productivity. Sabbaticals are a way of giving employees a break from job stress, rejuvenating them, and protecting an organisation’s long-term investment in its people.
Sabbaticals for personal pursuits and philanthropic projects
In addition to relieving stress, sabbaticals can help address employees’ personal needs. One person may feel a pressing need to write a book, while another may wish to explore the world! Either reason is important to the individual and should be regarded as so. That said, the expectation is that the company benefits from this enrichment when the employee returns. And at a time when employee commitment is at an all-time low – Institute research showed that 18% of young managers do not expect to stay with their current organisation for more than a year – many also consider it an incentive for long-term loyalty to the organisation.
Sabbaticals to meet business needs
In recent times, some organisations have introduced unpaid sabbaticals as an alternative to redundancy. As the economy slowed, they needed to reduce headcount and expenditure. Yet, many realised the commercial necessity of maintaining some sort of readiness for when the economy picked up. Leaves of absence seemed like an ideal way to achieve this. However, as the “temporary” downturn has become more entrenched, what at first seemed like an attractive benefit, has become a less palatable option for employees.
Steps to take
Organisations wishing to implement a sabbatical programme need to plan carefully to ensure that it meets the needs of business as well as those of employees. A well-run programme will benefit both, helping organisations compete in the marketplace for people with skills they want and need.
- Be clear about the objectives of the sabbatical and make sure they’re stated in a policy. Is the aim to encourage future high performance or is it a reward for valued service in the past?
- Target the right people. Are minimum service requirements appropriate or do conditions of leave unintentionally favour certain employees even though broad-based participation is desired?
- Plan for the absence. Be sure that you have adequate backup personnel who can handle the work of the person on leave, without burning themselves out.
- Consider the amount of time available. You should provide the employee on leave sufficient time to gain whatever benefit is desired without overextending your generosity.
- Be prepared to adapt the policy to changes in business and workforce conditions.