Your own worst enemy

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.

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