A career sabbatical is a break that professionals take from their jobs, for a brief period of time, in order to explore other ventures or follow one’s calling or even study. There is no particular age when a person can choose to go on a sabbatical nor is there a fixed time frame within which a person can resume professional life post a sabbatical. The decision is solely dependent on the professionals themselves.
In the current talent climate, incentives doled out by employers to their employees help attract and retain talent. Incentives also take on greater significance today, because competing on the basis of compensation alone proves insufficient.
In this context, Abhijit Bhaduri, executive coach and personal branding advisor, recently deliberated on the idea of career sabbaticals, as a part of the benefits employers could offer to their employees, via a post on his social media handle.
Monetary vs non-monetary incentives
“When one incentivises through monetary benefits, there is always the likelihood of someone matching that incentive or even bettering it. It isn’t a long-term business strategy, and a business gradually risks bankruptcy by sticking to it. Therefore, offering sabbaticals as an incentive would be a lucrative and sound business decision. In fact, I see it is as the biggest non-monetary incentive that can be looked into,” Bhaduri says.
Senior HR leader, Jayanthi Gopal, went on a career sabbatical twice in her career. She took the first one to pursue higher education from the prestigious London School of Economics.
However, the reason that propelled her to take the second one were different. “I was working 14 hours a day, seven days a week. My health was slowly deteriorating and it was getting more and more difficult for me to balance my professional life and personal life,” she tells HRKatha.
During her second sabbatical, Gopal decided to use the time off to travel extensively. This break also helped her bring her physical and mental health up to the mark. Now rejuvenated, Gopal has now made a transition from financial services to an entirely different sector. in Chennai.
“I think a career sabbatical gives one time to really consider things that are important in life. It allows one to discover other horizons as well, professionally. People have also jumped into entrepreneurship after evaluating how they want to carry forward their career during their time off,” she says.
“Adoption and mainstreaming of sabbatical leaves will be a time-bound process”
Abhijit Bhaduri, executive coach and personal branding advisor
In his social-media post, Bhaduri undertook a poll to gauge the most suitable time frame for an employer to give a voluntary sabbatical. The options to choose from were, three years, five years, seven years and no consideration. It saw about 2,00,000 people participating, and indicated that a majority of people prefer working for three years with an employer before going on a brief sabbatical. This is something that Bhaduri himself suggests. He believes in giving employees six months to decide the future of their career, every three years with the organisation. He says that any work experience below three years cannot be considered as it is too short a time frame for employees to prove their output capabilities and ability to consistently meet deliverables for the company. Hence, asking for a sabbatical before completion of at least three years would be unjustified on the part of the employee.
As an HR policy, this may just be a thought at the moment, with its regularisation and implementation still up for debate. However, the same goes for any HR practice.
Bhaduri explains, “Adoption of any HR practice takes time. The eight-hour work day was really unheard of, even in the West, when the Tatas first implemented it. Now, it has sort of become the norm. Adoption and mainstreaming of something will always be a time-bound process”.
Feasibility of sabbaticals
Depending on the industry and scenario, the notion of incentives may change. In a low-cost industry, offering sabbaticals as an incentive may not even be possible or feasible. However, for other industries such as manufacturing, pharma, IT, and so on, such a policy may work. At a time when attracting talent is becoming quite a challenge, such a strategy may very well be a game changer.
According to Sunil Singh, CHRO, Stellar Value Systems, the new way of working, or “career 3.0”, as he dubs it, people are likely to don three to four professional hats throughout their professional journeys. Such career sabbaticals are pivotal for them to identify exactly how they want their careers to play out. Sabbaticals, in the current trend of ‘The Great Resignation’ would actually benefit people who have already invested a significant amount of time in one line of work and are unsure of whether they would want to continue in the same line from a career perspective. Some time to pursue other interests would really give a mid-senior or a senior level professional time to evaluate their career preference. Being a model employer would require one to facilitate this process and ensure that talent remains with one in an effective manner.
“A company may bet on them and realise that a sabbatical or a break would be a positive thing for both the parties involved”
Sunil Singh, CHRO, Stellar Value Systems
Entrusting employees with the decision to take a sabbatical and return to work would increase the value of organisations as employers.
Singh points out that the public sector has been traditionally known for such policies, where the employers facilitate the learning sabbaticals of their employees.
“In the public sector, people have been known to go on education breaks, even while remaining attached to the organisation. Companies in the private sector can arrange for a different engagement — fund the entire sabbatical or incentivise it by assuring that the employees can return to a different role, or something else that they’d want to explore,” he said.
Career sabbaticals have usually been frowned upon, but things do seem to be changing for the better. A senior HR professional, who has since retired from the profession, tells HRKatha on condition of anonymity that as she progressed through her career in the people management space, the workload started getting to her. She decided to go on an indefinite sabbatical after more than two decades of working. She found contentment in life by doing so, and tells us that it was one of the best decisions she ever made.
After employees spend some time with an organisation in a particular function, they become an integral part of the company culture and their productivity and capacity is also proven. “A company may bet on them and realise that a sabbatical or a break would be a positive thing for both the parties involved. For the employees, because they get time to explore other ventures, de-stress and so on, and for the employers, because they can look forward to the employees returning rejuvenated and in all likelihood, with a better output capacity,” Singh enunciates.