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Dear Company, Your Sabbatical Program Makes Employees Worry. Please Fix This.

Worry disturbs the future.

Ron leaves his workplace at the end of next week for a six-week paid sabbatical provided by his company. The opportunity to live in Germany with his wife and young son in the small town of Bonn has been well planned.

He’ll attend language classes, travel and also call on a couple of prospective clients. He’s excited and so are his family members, friends, and colleagues. Even some of his clients are happy for his opportunity.

Ron has interviewed executives in other companies who have returned from their sabbaticals re-invigorated, flush with new ideas and ignited with career energy.

After a challenging two years, Ron hasn’t had much time to be creative or take time for himself. His days, evenings and often weekends are filled with work, work and more work.

He’ll look forward to the positive outcomes of time away and appreciates this opportunity.

So why, eight days before his flight leaves, does Ron suddenly become uneasy and fretful about the whole idea of taking a mid-career sabbatical.  (What was I thinking?)

He’ll worry about his decision the entire week before he leaves and question the outcomes. He’ll be uneasy with career concerns and lose sleep while he’s on sabbatical. And on the flight back? Ron will be in a stew agonizing about how to get up to speed his first day back in the office.

What a shame for Ron and his company’s investment.They won’t be getting full benefits from this program.

It’s natural to fret over a few loose ends right before you leave on a sabbatical.  But the apprehension, second-guessing and anxiety in this case indicate a problem tailor-made for Ron and other sabbatical goers in his company.

Is all this caused by something in Ron’s personality type? Does every sabbatical goer have this experience? Nope.

Ron is a victim of a faulty sabbatical design.

Thanks for Offering a Sabbatical, But …

Do individuals in an organization with a sabbatical program worry have about taking time away?  Do they question whether the idea of a sabbatical – even one that is paid and supported by the organization- is a good move for them? Will spend time worrying about the learning curve they face when they return?

You bet they do.

Their greatest concerns fall into four major categories:

  1. What to do with the time away
  2. How to finance the sabbatical
  3. How to keep from worrying about work while they are gone
  4. Returning to work and starting back @100%

Any organization designing a sabbatical program should take these as challenges to overcome.  It’s easy to get so excited about this “great opportunity” and forget that there are drawbacks and snags for sabbatical goers.

Sabbatical champions and committees spend enormous time and energy to build a strong business case for the sabbatical program. Often after they address the concerns of the upper management and gain approval, they go to the design process without listening to a group with other worries – the sabbatical goers.

How important is it to understand the underbelly of taking a sabbatical? We’d say if you don’t design to eliminate these you risk calling us to say, “Can you help us? We just launched our sabbatical program and no one wants to go.”

It happens. (And a sabbatical program off to a bad start loses potential and may not fully recover.)

The best sabbatical programs work to design a program to create processes and procedures that alleviate or reduce the sabbatical goer’s concerns upfront.

These examples are how a few design elements can take into account their major worries.

DESIGN THESE THREE WORRIES AWAY

  • How to Finance a Sabbatical: Can a company that continues to pay your salary during a sabbatical, do much more? Yes. Sabbaticals cost money so don’t spring this opportunity on your employee. Give them plenty of lead time. We advise a year at minimum.
  • What do Do on My Sabbatical. Some organizations require a sabbatical plan and we’re big advocates of that process. Structure for an individual to help him/her decide what to do with the time away could be as simple as an online program to help individuals establish priorities of work skills and personal goals at this time in life. A guided conversation with a boss or a previous sabbatical goer is another option to help with making the best choice for an awesome opportunity that doesn’t come around often. A sabbatical coach? You’d be surprised at how many people find this the key to their successful time away.
  • Getting Up to Speed on Return. A structured, pre-planned re-entry process to engage and share information between the sabbatical goer and those who covered their work should happen over a 3-5 day period. Important information and questions upon return were established prior to leaving on sabbatical. Meeting were put on everyone’s calendars beginning first with individuals then teams. Having an executive just show up after 4-6 weeks away increases anxiety about getting up to speed. With no plan, here’s the scene: Hey, what’s up? Can anyone tell me what’s been happening? Re-entry can be seamless when it’s a strong component of a sabbatical program design.

Successful, dynamic sabbatical programs enhance engagement for all employees. Each and every sabbatical goer with a successful sabbatical experience – from start to finish and beyond – builds momentum for continued positive results for the company.

Why sabotage these outcomes with a weak program design?

Do You Hear My Concerns about Taking Time Out?

An awesome offering like six-weeks paid away from work with full company support and cheering colleagues has down sides. No one expresses those concerns better than those who will become sabbatical goers.

The voices from individuals in our focus groups in various companies are likely those of the individuals in your organization. If you want to check in with your own employees, we’re confident you’ll hear many express what’s on the list below.

It’s also not a bad idea to check aspects of your culture to add those to a list of challenges to overcome in design.

What is a bad idea – and a common one – is to rush to design without a getting in the brain of one of your sabbatical goers.

Make it seamless and easy for them to embrace an extraordinary chance to return strong and invigorated to your workforce.

yS Focus Group Summary:

What’s your greatest challenge about taking this sabbatical?

Letting go

Choosing where to go and what to do

Keeping current with my job

Leaving work at work

Project management

None

Re-entry to work

Making sure I spent the time wisely

Re-education upon re-entry

Staying focused during the whole time away

Returning to work/learning curve

Deciding what to do

Not worrying about work related problems

Keeping myself busy, I’ll get bored with nothing to do

Financial/family

Financing the trip

Finding a way to fund/handle the concept

Finding a focus/target

Retaining current job skills

Coming back to work

Retaining knowledge

Keeping up with the changes while gone

Coming back to the game

Maintaining job knowledge

Job security

Telling myself everything will be okay when you return

Stay focused

Keeping busy

Letting go of it all

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