The Rise of the Sabbatical Strategy

Our workforce is changing.

According to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, more than one-in-three American labor force participants (35%) are Millennials, making them the largest generation in the U.S. labor force. In total as of 2017, there were 56 million Millennials looking for work or already working. There are also 61 Million Gen-Z members (those born after 1996) getting ready or already in pursuit of work (CNBC, 2018).

I’m no statistician, but simple math points to a significant influx of workers under the age of 35-40.

And with an influx of younger talent that has started to break the wheel on work-life norms, talent organizations and functions have been put on notice to evolve with the times.

So, what is ‘younger’ talent expecting, what does the data say, and why does it matter?

Work-life balance, purpose driven work, remote options, and other wellness-based perks. These are some of the expected requirements among Millennials and Gen-Z workers.

Deloitte's 2018 Millennial Survey helps to paint a more colorful picture. In their survey, it was noted that 68% of workers want to make a positive difference in the world through social impact initiatives while 50% of Millennial workers rate their health and wellness high but without a program offering from their company.

Beyond a desire for purpose driven work and health and wellness perks, an even more startling data number has started to emerge. 84% of Millennial and Gen-Z employees have experienced physical, psychological, or behavioral symptoms of poor mental health / burnout. Burnout leads to an unhappy workforce, culture, and can attribute to an undesirable turnover rate within a company.

Human Capital (HC) / People Operations (People Ops) departments know that they need to evolve their offerings to drive retainment among their talent. Some companies like Lattice, have taken a feedback-based approach to drive engagement and retention among their employees. While 1:1s, performance reviews, and transparency should be the cornerstone of a company, it doesn’t touch on all of the ‘wants’ of today’s workforce.

One way for companies to combat that trend is to grow their internal Benefits function within their HC/People Ops function – specifically by enabling a sabbatical strategy.

Whether it be a reward-based perk for employees who stay for more than 2 years or an opportunity to help manage burnout among your team members, a sabbatical strategy offers a perfect opportunity to provide your workforce with a platform to recharge, contribute their skillset to social impact causes, and learn a new skill over a 3 week or 6-month timespan. Moreover, it can be a complementary approach for helping to drive retainment among your employees.

What is a Sabbatical?

A sabbatical is a period of leave away work where participants have the opportunity to study, travel, and explore personal interests. Sabbatical opportunities are typically offered to employees that have either excelled in their role for a certain amount of time (2-3 years) or have been with the company for an extended period of time.

There’s a number of ways that companies can offer a sabbatical experience. Some larger organizations offer paid sabbatical options for an extended period of time (3-6 months), while others will offer shorter, unpaid opportunities. For context, Deloitte had two sabbatical offerings while I was working as a full-time technology consultant. These included:

  • A 6-month sabbatical where participants receive 40% of their pay

  • A 1 month (or less) unpaid sabbatical

To prevent employees from taking a paid sabbatical and leaving upon return, Deloitte requires participants to sign a legal waiver stating that they’ll agree to pay back all of the money earned during the sabbatical if they leave within a year of returning. Some organizations use this tactic, others do not. Terms and conditions aside, providing a sabbatical for your employees is an incredible work-perk, tool for retaining talent, and a way to differentiate yourself among your competitors.

Anyone who has taken a sabbatical will tell you how beneficial the experience was – to get away from the workplace, focus on some personal development, and help re-level set on priorities and the direction for their career. Moreover, it can also be a real difference maker for helping your employees to burn off some steam, rediscover why they’re in their current career role, and why they fell in love with their company in the first place.

How We Partner with Organizations

On the surface, offering a sabbatical sound like an easy answer to help meet changing workforce demands. However, deciding on the what and how of your sabbatical strategy can be an entirely different process, one that your HC / People Ops and Benefits teams may not have the bandwidth to commit to.

Here’s how The Weekend Sabbatical can help.

When The Weekend Sabbatical was started in March 2018, the intention was to provide professionals with an outlet that gives them all of the benefits of a sabbatical experience over 5 days time. Throw in leadership and career coaching as a foundation of the adventure and employees who attended were returning to work re-motivated in their role and with a supporting plan of action of how they continue to grow within their company.

This leads us to our first partnership opportunity – the ‘Subscription Model’, where we partner with organizations to send their employees on existing trips in Latin America (or elsewhere). The key pillars of our experience are leadership/career development, getting outside of your comfort zone professionally, social impact, selflessness in the workplace, and of course – adventure and cultural immersion. Over 5 days, our goal is to help professionals to recharge and step back to evaluate how they can grow in their careers. Through this model, we take care of all of the backend and in-trip planning. All an organization has to do is select how many employees they want to send on available trips per quarter. From there, employees sign up for a given trip and before long are traveling with like-minded professionals representing a range of companies from around the country.

Some organizations may request to have their sabbatical strategy catered for their employees only. We cover that too.

In our ‘Customized Model’, we partner with organizations to provide customized weekend sabbatical experiences over 5-7 days that are a la carte style and centered around social impact. Beyond the impact component, organizations can choose to include other elements of a standard TWS trip, which includes adventure activities, cultural immersion, and leadership/career development. With a customized experience, organizations have the opportunity to solve broader and more complex business issues for NGOs and non-profits in the communities that we travel to in Latin America that are aligned to that company’s corporate social responsibility goals.

One such use case is a management consulting firm that we’re partnering with that has pro-bono consulting work at the heart of the experience. They’ll be leveraging their expertise to solve community and regionally based issues. Some examples include how to drive sustainability practices and education workshops across a country, strategizing on how to expend and align local lifeguard services within a state, or standing up and optimizing a social enterprise incubator that supports hundreds of other grassroot companies in the area. Depending on the type of company and their skillsets, there are a myriad of ways to help solve complex issues and keep the impact component at the forefront of your company’s sabbatical experience.

As our workforce continues to evolve, HC / People Ops functions need to also grow their offerings to keep employees engaged and for driving retainment. Having a tangible sabbatical strategy in place for your Benefits (or Human Capital / People Operations) function can be robust way to address these two areas, all while helping your workforce to stay motivated within their current roles and by creating a broader impact abroad that aligns to your companies’ corporate responsibility goals.