The sabbatical is one of the most coveted perks in the workplace. Companies who offer them are commonly found on the “Best Places to Work” lists meaning they are financially healthy with a HIGHLY engaged employee base. Yet SHRM reports that only 20% of the companies it surveyed in 2010 offer sabbaticals (4% being paid).
So what gives? What is standing in the way? Lets look at the common fears surrounding this offer and the reasons to overcome them.
- Reduced Productivity. Often, employers wonder how they will cover someone’s responsibilities if they are out of the office for an extended amount of time. If you haven’t built a strong bench and delegated effectively, then productivity will most likely suffer. Which leads right into Fear #2…
- Cost. A day off with pay is one of the most costly benefits an employer can provide. Not only are you continuing benefits and pay (for companies offering paid sabbaticals) but you may also incur expenses to hire temporary work and/or deal with the effects of a downturn in productivity.
- They Won’t Come Back. Many employers fear that their employees simply won’t return to their jobs if given time and space to evaluate their current situation. And it’s the most commonly cited reason employers withhold this perk.
Now lets look at the flip side – the reasons why sabbaticals can be a KEY benefit to not only your employees but also your company’s bottom line.
- Increased Productivity. Employees returning from sabbatical are often recharged and re-invigorated. Having a steady stream of personnel coming in with renewed vigor and enthusiasm for their jobs and their company spells increased productivity.
- Team Development. Sabbaticals offer a prime opportunity for employers to develop their bench if they haven’t been doing so already. If you are leading your team effectively, any employee should be able to walk away from their job having the personnel ready and able to assume responsibility. It’s not only an essential key to leadership development but it also provides the other team members with the valuable experience of learning about the business by filling in the gaps. If leveraged, this is on-the-job training at its best and there is no loss of productivity.
- Fresh Perspective. Some companies, such as Nokia, recognize the value in new perspectives. They have cleverly devised policies around inviting new-hires to as many strategic meetings within their first 6-months as possible, to get their ideas and feedback before they become part of the more limited groupthink. Offering long-time employees sabbatical can reintroduce this much-needed fresh perspective providing a “best of both worlds” scenario where someone intimately familiar with your company can provide ideas typically only gained from highly paid consultants.
- Retention. With the cost of replacing a manager averaging 150% of his or her salary (not to mention time and institutional knowledge lost), turnover can be HUGE to an organization’s bottom line. In the end, it’s a fairly simple equation: The cost of keeping someone happy is a heck of a lot less than replacing them. Given that sabbaticals are so coveted, this is a no-brainer.
- Recruiting. Who doesn’t want to work for a company on one of the “Best Company” lists? Often, added benefits and perks provide the choice point between a sought-after recruit choosing your company or the competition.
All in all, providing sabbaticals is a good idea for employers looking to develop, retain, and recruit the best employees while creating a culture rich in energy and appreciation. And I would make the extended argument for offering paid sabbaticals, as I believe the benefits far outweigh the perceived and real costs.
Does your company offer paid or unpaid sabbaticals? If so, would you do it all over again and why?