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Sabbaticals Expand / Collapse
Posted Tuesday, October 25, 2005 7:46 AM



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Does your company offer a sabbatical? Andy and I were discussing retention and benefits awhile back and we got around to sabbaticals. He was trying to secure this benefit for his development staff, and I'd had a little experience, so we got to talking. I've never personally had one, but my wife has. She worked for a high tech company in the 90s and after 6 years, she was allowed to take 6 weeks, full salary, as a sabbatical.

I've never personally worked at a company where it was offered, much less stuck around long enough to earn one. But I've always thought they were a great idea, without really understanding the purpose. It seemed like a great reward to let someone get a little extra time off after devoting six or seven years to the company, which seemed to be the norm with my friends.

However I started to research this a little and found that the idea wasn't extra vacation. It was to allow someone to recharge, but in a constructive way. In academia, this usually means working on some defined project, a paper, book, or something else that has a tangible and specific end to it.

That is an interesting idea. When my wife took her sabbatical, she basically took 8 weeks of vacation; the sabbatical and some other PTO time she'd shared. For her it was a project, to try and be a stay at home Mom, but it wasn't something defined with her employer. I've spoken to a few other people that were lucky enough to get them and it was really a vacation time for them, a chance to get away.

I think that setting up a sabbatical is hard. You don't want to just pile up work for someone that takes off for 6 weeks, especially if there's a chance they will not return. And if they return to something like that, it's more of a punishment than a reward. Allowing someone to leave for an extended period, and I'd argue that 6 weeks isn't that long, but it is hard on a company and the other employees. But I think it's almost a necessity given the long hours and extra efforts that many IT people put in.

The idea of setting up a specific project, even something like attending a cooking school or training for a marathon, is a good one. There should be some flexible rules that bound the time, but still make it productive for the employer. Xerox has a great volunteer sabbatical where employees can spend a number of weeks volunteering with some organization, and I think that is outstanding.

I think I'd enjoy 6 weeks of pounding nails with someone like Habitat for Humanity.

Steve Jones

Follow me on Twitter: @way0utwest

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Post #231995
Posted Wednesday, October 26, 2005 9:07 AM


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We used to do sabaticals of sorts. We took 6 weeks every two years in a rotating schedule. The projects were highly work focused in that they were all software development projects. The person taking the time could choose to work on whatever they wanted, provided that it was approved by management (we never rejected any proposals, but we never got any completely unrelated to our core products either). The company got good value because most projects ended up in production eventually, and while it may not have been as relaxing as time off, uninterupted time spent on something you found interesting was definitely a recharge for the employee.

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