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How Radical is a Sabbatical? Part 2: ROI on Sabbaticals

How Radical is a Sabbatical? Part 2: ROI on Sabbaticals

On the surface, the proposition of a sabbatical may sound one-sided—all in favor of the employee and all cost to the company. Honestly, that was my first impression (along with envy) when one of my tennis friends from Intel told me of his sabbatical. As time went on, however, I started thinking about how I might stretch my own career another decade—can I hit the restart button after 35-plus years on the go…when I’m not ready to consider retiring?

A sabbatical may be the answer for others wondering that same thing, and possibly for companies wondering how they can keep great people longer. 

Building off of last issue’s start to the conversation, How Radical is a Sabbatical?, I have decided to list the possible value points of a sabbatical leave for a business:

➣ Retain and extend the productive contribution of your experienced people
➣ Attract, train, and mentor the next generation
➣ Enhance ability to compete outside of produce for top talent
➣ Give your people a break and hit the refresh button
➣ Provide a “second act” to long-term, valued, and experienced employees
➣ Fully leverage experience and tribal knowledge, while at the same time preparing the organization for the future
➣ Get an early jump on succession planning, training, and cross-training
➣ Stress test the organization—before they leave for good

Of course, there are also potential financial costs to the business. Do the benefits outweigh the challenges? 

There are three types of sabbatical compensation plans: fully paid, partially paid, and unpaid. The costs just start there, as there are more direct and indirect costs to take into consideration. Interestingly enough, only four percent of United States companies offer a paid sabbatical program and 16 percent offer an unpaid sabbatical program, as shared by the Society of Human Resource Management.

A radical idea for produce companies?

Is the sabbatical too radical for our industry? Or, perhaps the more important question is: Could some companies implement a sabbatical policy and create a competitive advantage? 

One argument in the “pro” column is that employees have an extended amount of time to relax and rejuvenate, so when they return to work, they are ready to dive in with renewed energy and new ideas. 

Like most employer programs, sabbaticals are viewed, defined, structured, and offered in a variety of ways. The typical policy includes a break after a number of years of full-time employment. For example, at or after 6, 8, 10, 12, or 15 years, workers are rewarded with an extended break to rest and to pursue interests that refresh them and may even enhance their work.

At one time, this benefit was associated only with academia (Harvard was the first to institute sabbaticals in 1880). Now, sabbatical leave is becoming popular in the corporate world too. For example, HubSpot* offers a paid four-week sabbatical, plus $5,000 spending money to employees who stay five years. Salesforce** rewards its workforce with one week of unpaid sabbatical for every year of full-time employment, while Adobe*** gives four weeks of paid sabbatical to workers who have completed five years of continuous employment.

We all know the benefits of breaks and vacations, but what about longer periods of time? Do sabbaticals really improve productivity or creativity? 

As employees put more emphasis on work-life balance, some companies are catering to their needs and wants by offering “concierge services,” such as massage therapists, in-office gyms, and other nifty perks. While these amenities make the work day less stressful, they don’t truly acknowledge the need for people to fully escape from the office and their work life to completely renew. That’s where the employee sabbatical program may come in.

Some believe that taking a sabbatical from work should not be the same as taking a really long vacation. They believe it’s an extended break that should be utilized for one to pursue a project and come back with new research, ideas, or inventions that will enrich their career and company.

Where to start?

If you choose to implement a sabbatical program for your employees, there are many factors to consider in regard to what happens before, during, and afterward. Here is a brief list:

➣ What kind of sabbatical? E.g. four weeks paid or unpaid after 10, 12, or 15 years of service, and again at 20 or 25 years of service
➣ Pre-sabbatical: A structured training/cross-training program and detailed hand-off plan
➣ Pre-sabbatical: With certain employees, establish a plan for their return in a new capacity, which may include:

       ➤ As a mentor or in-house consultant
       ➤ A less stressful role
       ➤ An all-new role
       ➤ A reduced time commitment each week
       ➤ Active participation in succession planning, training, and mentoring
➣ During the sabbatical: The employee will be accessible if only truly needed
➣ Post sabbatical: A planned meeting to discuss the time off, benefits of the sabbatical, and the post-sabbatical plan
➣ Second Acts: Planning the post-sabbatical stretch when the time comes


The Second Act

Coincidently, I recently spoke with yet another person who retired—and loved it for a couple of months—until he ran out of things to do, not to mention starting to drive his wife crazy. 

“Rex, I’ve got all this knowledge locked up in my head and I want to share it. I want to give back and mentor. I still want to contribute to a company’s success,” he shared. 

I replied, “So, Jeffrey, you kinda went on a sabbatical, and now you’re back working again?” I shared with him this story I’m working on and the whole concept. In his new job, he’s a Director and no longer a Vice President. He does not have the same stresses and is not the person “where the buck stops,” or gets the late night or weekend calls. He could not be happier, making less money, dealing with fewer headaches, and having the ability to support and mentor those below and above him. He’s fulfilled.

I wonder if his past employer of 25 years is kicking itself knowing that a competitor is benefiting from all his knowledge and experience at a discounted rate? 

Do you see where I’m going with this? Keep your people healthier and happier longer. Have them actively participate in their “down-sizing” while at the same time bringing those up around them, and leveraging everyone’s assets. This idea may help solve a few challenges we’re facing in the workforce today.

I started writing this series with the intention of weighing the pros and cons of sabbaticals. If you’ve made it this far, you know I ended up writing a pro-sabbatical story. I do believe a company has the prerogative and responsibility to structure a sabbatical program that benefits both the employee and the company. While the company is not obligated to provide balance and rejuvenation, it may be in their best interest to model and support it. It will take some planning and disciplined execution to fully realize the ROI to the fullest extent. 

Perhaps, like most decisions, start small and conservatively with careful planning. 

Enjoy the journey! 

Contributing Author

Founder and President, Joe Produce Search℠. Joe Produce Search (JPS) is the Executive Search division of Joe Produce®. Joe Produce Search is comprised of experienced search consultants and produce professionals. Our placements range from middle management to C-level positions, throughout North America, covering a wide range of produce and produce-related businesses. Joe Pro Resumes is another service of Joe Produce®. Joe Pro Resumes helps you write and refine your resume to help you find the produce industry position of your dreams. We have written hundreds of resumes for many professionals in the produce business in addition to various related sectors.