About 10 years into running his successful international PR agency, Global Tolerance, Simon Cohen, its founder, took a bold decision. He gave his entire team a one-year sabbatical. The reason: he felt his company needed to reflect more on their mission and business. Cohen requested his employees to work as freelancers with their existing clients, which in turn developed the employees’ leadership skills.

Sabbaticals are not a new idea. But what makes them effective is how we use them. The trend of adapting sabbaticals to meet individual employee and organizational needs is now on the rise. And the purpose is more than just to revive or rejuvenate after a hectic career.

An instance: the SAP Sabbatical Program where the company sends teams of employees to work in different countries. The company’s management feels it could help “employees build invaluable leadership skills and foster new working relationships across company departments.” Buffer, a social media organization, successfully experimented with a personalized learning sabbatical for an employee – a 12-week schedule at 50% pay, supervised by a direct manager. The purpose was to acquire specific skillsets. It was so successful a move that other employees too decided to take learning sabbaticals.

How can you plan a working/ learning sabbatical? Business writer Gwen Moran shares tips:

  • Decide your professional goals. Set realistic ones, that are achievable within the sabbatical period.
  • Plan in advance and layout a list of tasks to help accomplish those goals.
  • Create a list of follow up tasks to be implemented once you return. You do not want to waste what you learnt.

The benefits? Clair Millard, writer and coach who took a working sabbatical after a decade in senior leadership roles, points out that many employers are open to the idea of learning sabbaticals, where they offer flexible benefits to employees. It’s a win-win situation.

  • When professionals return from a learning sabbatical with new and enhanced skills, it improves their ability to contribute to the company. And the company can tap into these skills, without needing a fresh hire.
  • When an employee is on a sabbatical, another employee needs to step up in his/ her absence and develop the abilities to fill the gap. It’s good for the employees, good for the organization too.

As Stephanie Ricci, head of learning at AXA, explains, “By 2020, the core skills required by jobs are not on the radar today, hence we need to rethink the development of skills, with 50% of our jobs requiring significant change in terms of skillset.” Learning or up-skilling sabbaticals are pretty much the need of the hour.

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