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Work burnout got you down? Consider a sabbatical

Sabbatical leave promotes well-being, decreases stress and helps with workplace retention

Paid time off (known more commonly as vacation days) are like currency in the talent acquisition world. This golden package ranges from unlimited days off (at companies like Netflix, Glassdoor and Virgin) to the more standard two weeks of paid time off. Two weeks is especially meager when compared to the European Union’s four weeks of paid vacation minimum.

Vacation aside, there is a different type of career break that’s not often talked about — often only mused about in academic circles by tenured professors — the sabbatical.

Sabbaticals are longer career breaks, usually spanning from three months to up to a year, and are typically offered in academia and medicine. However, the number of companies that provide a more extended break for high-performing employees also continues to rise. In fact, a survey from the Society of Human Resource Management found that almost 17 percent of companies offered a type of sabbatical (either paid or unpaid) in 2017.

What’s the benefit of sabbaticals?

“Emerging research shows there’s evidence to the power of sabbaticals in reducing burnout, assisting with identity discovery/formation/change, and shifting work choices from more extrinsic to intrinsic motives,” said Dennis (DJ) DiDonna, a Harvard Business School grad and research fellow who is investigating the benefits of sabbaticals via Notre Dame and Templeton Foundation.

Nina Velasquez, executive vice president of Talent Development at North 6th Agency (N6A) echoed a similar sentiment.

“Sabbaticals give people the chance to unwind, yet remain active depending on what you choose to do with your time off,” said Velasquez. “Last year, N6A rewarded all of our employees with month-long sabbaticals, Many of our employees thought that taking a sabbatical opened doors to do something that they’ve always wanted to but never tried before their time off. Some even used the time to reach a personal goal — upon their return to the office, employees felt refreshed and ready to get back to the daily grind.”

A strategic retention initiative

While you might think extended leave might give employees a chance to take flight after they return, research shows the opposite. A recent PwC report found that workload and burnout was the top risk for employers. While 75 percent of respondents said managing workloads was important, only half of companies said they were doing something about it.

PwC Partner Mike Boro leads the professional services firm’s Future of Work practice. He shared that companies who offer extended leave experience more loyal, committed, productive and innovative employees upon return.

“Overall, results suggest that sabbaticals provide a strong return on investment, for both the company and employee leaving, he said. “Sabbatical leave promotes well-being, decreases stress, and provides opportunities for other employees to acquire new knowledge and skills, ultimately helping with retention. Providing employees with periods of recovery will become increasingly important, as longer working lives require people to retain their energy for career marathons, not sprints.”

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