By Dr. Kevin
Are you feeling burnt out? Do your day-to-day responsibilities at work stand in the way of a goal you have for your life? Perhaps a sabbatical is just the ticket for you. Once the privilege of tenured professors, the sabbatical is now spreading into the corporate world as a means of keeping employees happy, healthy, and productive.
Computer giant Cisco Systems in San Jose, California, experienced a surprising response when it created a pilot sabbatical program six years ago. Employees who accepted a two-thirds pay cut were offered a chance to volunteer for a year in the non-profit sector. Cisco expected 20 or 25 employees to sign up, but 300 made application. In its first year, 80 people were granted the sabbatical and Cisco has now added this program permanently to its benefits package. They are not alone. In 2006, nearly half of Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work for in America” offered paid sabbatical programs.
The concept of a sabbatical originated more than two thousand years ago as evidenced in the Bible. The Old Testament directs the Hebrew people to let their fields lie fallow every seventh (sabbatical) year in order to give the land and its people rest and maintain maximum productivity (Exodus 23:10-11 and Leviticus 25:3-4). Similarly, Deuteronomy 15:12-14 stipulates that Hebrew slaves were to be freed from service after six years. What is more, their owners were to send them on their way with a generous share of provisions to live on.
The modern practice of granting sabbaticals can be traced back to the 19th century. According to Kenneth Zahorski, in his book The Sabbatical Mentor, in 1888 Harvard University recruited noted philologist Charles Lanman from Johns Hopkins University by offering him every seventh year off with pay. The practice spread quickly in academia and the church. The purpose for the sabbatical was to afford professors and clergy the opportunity to travel, pursue research, reassess direction, renew one’s spirit, and accomplish goals that were not possible within the bounds of normal career routines.
Of course, the benefits of a sabbatical can apply to any vocation and the option has spread, particularly among companies that rely on their employees to generate ideas or expend emotional energy. In general, publishing, high technology, advertising, consulting, social service and counselling agencies are more sabbatical-friendly than natural resource, manufacturing or finance firms.
Professional “sabbatical coach” Clive Prout describes four main reasons why people take sabbaticals (www.thesabbaticalcoach.com):
Exploring Self and Purpose – Perhaps the most fundamental motivation for a sabbatical, time free from work allows deep contemplation to answer the question “What gives meaning and purpose to my life?”
Changing Track – Some people sense that their current career path has run its course and in order to avoid stagnation and death of the soul, they can use a sabbatical to redirect their vocation.
Rejuvenation – Other people know that they are on the right track in their life. However, because they are highly motivated, they are prone to overwork and burn out. For this group the sabbatical is an opportunity for renewal. They can return to their life’s work reenergized and ready for more.
Escape – Feeling frustrated and overwhelmed, many people seize the opportunity for a sabbatical simply to relieve stress. They have no plan to sustain themselves when they return to the grind that has worn them down, nor do they follow any strategy to make lasting changes in their professional or personal lives.
Besides the personal benefits, the sabbatical also benefits the company and the colleagues of the individual taking the time away. Having a sabbatical policy aids the employer in both recruitment and retention of qualified employees who are seeking more than simply a high salary. Upon return from a sabbatical, the employee often brings new direction, greater creativity, fresh energy and increased loyalty. While veterans of many years are away on sabbatical, junior colleagues who fill in get the chance to expand their skills, demonstrate their talents and earn greater confidence from others. In this sense, the sabbatical becomes a developmental opportunity for all.
Even if your employer does not have a sabbatical policy in place, it may be possible for you to arrange paid leave if you plan ahead. Some businesses and education boards offer self-funded sabbaticals. In these situations, employees have a portion of their income withheld over several years. They are then able to use these savings to fund extended time off. The employer continues to provide health, insurance and pension benefits during the sabbatical.
So, write that book. Sail around the world. Volunteer on a short-term mission. Learn a new language. Explore a different culture. Nurture your soul. Refresh your spirit. Regain your health.
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