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September 18, 2007

Relaxation, the Profitable Way

I can believe a land of florescent-lit, collapsible boxes--in which the majority of your workers are stuffed--is not conducive to personal growth. It's hard enough dodging the rich aroma of your next wall neighbor's day-old tuna sandwich. Never mind enhancing the mind and spirit--I'll settle for decreasing the functionality of my olfactory lobes from 9 to 5.
It's not hard, therefore, to sell me on the wisdom of the paid sabbatical. Whether a few days, or a year, there's potential for productive personal growth, if you can put down the Margarita and  Danielle Steel book long enough for it to occur. The key to educational sabbaticals that teach workers more about themselves, and their relationship to their work, than the location of all the McDonald's within a five mile radius, is structure.
The trick is giving them assignments that are substantive, but not so labor-intensive or mind-limiting, they may as well be back in their office-bound, cubic oblivion. You also need to bridge their personal epiphanies to their daily work flow, and how their newfound personal enlightenment can better the mediocre new product ideas they've turned in for the last few months in a state of burnout.
If you ask them to read a book on management or innovation, ask them to do more than take notes; ask them to try keeping a journal, and stress the importance that they first write whatever immediately comes to mind, whether or not directly related to work. Then ask them to come up with a list of ideas on how those observations or feelings could be tied to their daily assignments. That way the bridge to business will be made, but without hampering creativity.

Just as journaling activities can be assigned in a new way, classes or seminars taken outside the confines of the corporate university also can be re-imagined. Instead of limiting workers to management courses, why not let them take pottery, crocheting, or an acting class at the local community college?  Then ask them either on their own, or with help from a facilitator after they get back to the office, to discuss what they learned about themselves through mastering their new skill, and what that new personal insight tells them about how they can best approach their jobs.

What about time in at an Eco-resort far outside the suburbs or city-limits, with guided nature and wildlife tours?  What does the working of the ecosystem tell the employee on sabbatical about what's not working about his or her work group or organization?

Paid sabbaticals sound like a great way to stifle a whining worker, which may be one of its advantages. But, if you provide the right activities, and prime employees to approach the exercises with an open mind, paid leave will expand their creativity and enthusiasm as much as their enjoyment of a full night's rest.

Are paid sabbaticals worth it?  Do you think your workers will wake up their brains, or are you betting they'll spend the bulk of the week asleep in their hammock?

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Comments

Henry Stewart

We give one month fully paid sabbatical after very 6 years. As CEO I believe it more than pays for itself in both increased motivation and giving time to reflect and rethink.

But what is wrong with you USers? Two weeks holiday a year?! Why are you folks still living in the dark ages.

There is more to life than working all hours. Look after your people, give them decent holidays (5 weeks is fairly standard in Europe) and see the benefits of a less stressed and motivated workforce.

Henry Stewart
Happy Ltd (London)

bk

As a state employee, I continue to ask why state employees of the community colleges and state universities have sabbatical opportunities but state employees in other agencies do not? Perhaps this is something that the state employee unions should be including in their bargaining objectives, but it seems to be a more fundamental issue - does a sabbatical have value for some employees but not for others? for some government agencies but not for others? I don't want to make this a matter of they have it and so I want it too! but if it is valuable as part of employee benefits and value to the organization then it is the same for all employees at all parts of the organization, not just those behind the ivy covered walls.

cv

I agree that the sabbatical is a great idea. I have seen so many employee burnout situations that could be greatly helped by the mentoring proposition along with the sabbatical. We seem to one of the only countries that thinks that 2 weeks is adequate time off for the year. You need more of an opportunity to 'sharpen the saw'!

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