Here’s how I started my campaign for an organizational sabbatical policy several years ago, somewhere around 2009:
“Hello there boss, with whom I’ve worked for over 10 years. You know, this international non-profit work we do is pretty stressful. We’ve dealt with lots of crises, disasters, challenges, and just the day-to-day stressors of our jobs. It would be great to take a break, and I don’t want to have to have a baby to get time off, since I’m pretty sure that maternity leave is NOT relaxing. At all. So, yeah, let’s think about a sabbatical policy.”
It won’t surprise you to hear that this was not terribly effective. The only thing I accomplished was to get the word “sabbatical” tossed around the office a bit, which was something. A work/life balance initiative was undertaken in 2010, but due to the average age (young) and the average tenure (short) of my colleagues, a sabbatical wasn’t at the top of their priority list. In fact, it wasn’t until mid-2011 when our Executive Director decided to institute a sabbatical option. She announced the existence of the policy and the eligibility criteria, and then said she’d be the first to take advantage of the benefit.
Her 7-week leave started the following Monday.
Here’s how I might have organized my campaign, if I was the slightest bit strategic:
“Hello there boss, with whom I’ve worked for over 10 years. You know, this international non-profit work we do is pretty stressful. We’ve dealt with lots of crises, disasters, challenges, and just the day-to-day stressors of our jobs. There’s research that shows that offering a sabbatical can increase staff retention and job satisfaction. And they’re not just for academics and priests any more. Many companies offer some sabbatical options; there are many ways we could structure it to make it work in our organizational culture. Would you be open to me making a proposal for you and the executive leadership team to review?”
The lesson here is pretty clear. You need a plan. (As my husband would remind us here: “With no plan, there’s no attack. With no attack, no victory.”) If your employer has a sabbatical policy already, that’s great. If not, don’t despair. As a committed and talented employee, you’re in a position to advocate for this benefit. Check out some of the links on the Resources page, and think about what would work best for your company’s culture. Then sketch out a few options that you can share with Human Resources. Get the ball rolling. Trust me, you’re not the only one thinking about this.