Why all employers should consider introducing long service sabbaticals

Twenty years ago I introduced long service sabbaticals at REED.  Since then anyone who completes ten, twenty, and thirty years of service with the company is entitled to take a paid sabbatical of six weeks. This can be added to two weeks’ annual leave, giving a paid break of up to eight weeks. My reason for introducing these paid sabbaticals was to say thank you to colleagues who had given significant years of service to the company and yes, to reward their loyalty.

At the time, a lot of people questioned the wisdom of this idea. I was told that paid sabbaticals would be costly, would disrupt working patterns and would be harmful to income generation and productivity. They were seen as expensive and unnecessary.  It was hard to argue against the logic of these arguments at the time, but my instinct was that this was well worth a try and that in the long-run the company would benefit enormously.

Now, twenty years on, I feel vindicated. The REED sabbatical scheme has become one of the defining benefits of working at the company and has been a vital aid to both recruitment and retention. Some of my colleagues have been with us for over 30 years and are now planning their third long service sabbatical. Many more are planning their first or second.  In a business built on relationships we now have 365 colleagues who have been with us for ten years or more.  That’s one for every day of the year.  REED benefits hugely from their commitment and expertise.

If you’re still to be convinced and alarm bells are ringing at the thought of letting your team have a significant amount of time off work, then take a moment to consider some of the many positive, productive benefits a sabbatical scheme can have. In my experience, they are an excellent way to retain talent and to motivate your team.  Here’s how:

 

Loyalty

When I speak to our clients about their recruitment concerns, one of their biggest challenges is employee retention. This doesn’t surprise me because it’s remarkably easy to look for a new job these days. At reed.co.uk our busiest time of the week is Mondays between 10.00am and 2.00pm, when we receive many thousands of applications.  There are lots of reasons to look for a new job, but someone who has been at an organisation for seven or eight years will think twice about leaving if they have a long service sabbatical on the horizon.  They will also be wary of leaving an organisation that offers this kind of life-enriching opportunity to go to one that does not.  Like it or not, long service sabbaticals say something about the business culture of a company and its relationship with the people who work for it. They engender loyalty.

 

Inspiration

No matter how much you enjoy your job, it’s important to retain a sense of curiosity and excitement, not just about the work that you do but also about the world around you.  This is where energy and new ideas come from.  A sabbatical is a  great way to reboot your outlook.  Whether you want to go hiking in the Himalayas or redecorate your home, a change of scenery and perspective is entirely healthy. I find that colleagues who have recently returned from a sabbatical have renewed energy for the company and often bring new and refreshed thinking back with them.  A period of paid absence can provide just the sort of time and space that is needed for innovative thinking. From my own experience, inspiration rarely occurs in the office.

 

Opportunities and skills

Many people seize the opportunity of a long service sabbatical to make a difference by doing something for the community. REED is passionate about charitable work, and 18% of our business is owned by the Reed Foundation. We like to say that we Love Mondays and that every Friday we work for charity. Some of my colleagues have now taken this one step further by using their sabbaticals to take up voluntary work that they haven’t had time for during their career to date.  This is an enriching experience and they return to us with new insights and skills.

All of this being said, there’s no right or wrong way to use a sabbatical. It is a reward and a gift for people to use exactly as they wish, to recharge their batteries and refresh their outlook in whichever ways they see fit. Whether you choose to travel the world, take up a new hobby, learn how to code, complete an unfinished project, or spend more time with family and friends, being away from work for more than a couple of weeks will certainly help you to regain perspective on what you really enjoy, and you’ll return to the workplace feeling fully refreshed.

Ultimately sabbaticals benefit everyone, both companies and workers. For this reason, I would urge all business leaders to consider introducing long service sabbaticals like ours.  They reward loyalty, unleash energy and can be a catalyst for fresh thinking and new ideas.  What’s not to like about that?