Careers

Sabbaticals: The good, the bad and the ugly

Across the world, organisations are increasingly offering the gift of flexibility to their employees.

A study by the Society of Human Resource Management shows that 17% of the organisations in the United States allow sabbaticals. We see this as a rising trend in India, particularly in the last 5 years. Most of these are “leave without pay” and offered to employees having a strong performance track record.

This is how it works.

Organisations invest significant amount of resources in training and development of their employees. The returns on the investments are realised over a long period of time. As the employee keeps performing, there is an increasing acclimatisation and cultural alignment with the beliefs of the organisation. One may be able to spot a pair of trained hands with the competition, but the commitment that a performer brings to work each day is irreplaceable. So, for companies to have a sustainable future, they must retain not only the top performers but also all the people who meet expectations consistently. When one of the good employees wants a long leave either to explore a new world of opportunity or deal with something personal, sabbaticals come in handy. By granting a long vacation, an organisation can win a star performer’s heart and ensure he/she is in for the long haul.

Sabbaticals do create unpredictability and inject instability into the organisation. Typically, the boss has to find someone to fill in the role vacated by the person going on a sabbatical. Often, the person proceeding on a sabbatical does not offer a long notice period and hence, the replacement has to happen quickly. This further adds to the pressure of finding a replacement. Secondly, such replacements are risky because of the high stakes involved with an external stakeholder such as a key client, a government body or a strategic partner.

For employees, it is a great benefit. They do not have to scratch their heads after they complete their switch-off period. They have the same job and a workplace that recognises them. The risk of not finding a new job is non-existent and hence, the person can easily take the bold step of moving away from the din and bustle of day-to-day work. Sabbaticals give them the space to reflect, the opportunity to shape their dreams and craft the path ahead. People proceed for higher studies, go for medical treatment, take up social work, pursue a passion, write a book, attend to personal emergencies in family and so on without worrying about a place and job to resume after the break.

Sometimes, sabbaticals are misused by people. One could moonlight during that period of time with another organisation in a similar area of work and hence, act against the spirit of taking a sabbatical. Companies try to mitigate the risk by drawing up the terms of the sabbatical such as eligibility in terms of duration of employment, level in the organisation and performance track record; they also define the period of sabbatical considering these factors.

There are hidden costs associated with a sabbatical. For example, employee benefits such as health insurance and accident cover have to continue. Another challenge with a long sabbatical, say six months, is to accommodate the employee in a role which is commensurate with his or her capabilities and commensurate with the pay. Small organisations do not have the elbow room required for a successful sabbatical programme. Many United States and United Kingdom headquartered multinational companies operating in India offer such programmes. Many large Indian companies and mid-sized progressive companies in India, particularly in the services sector, such as IT, consulting and healthcare have been offering sabbaticals. This helps the employer brand stand tall in the crowd and attract bright talent.

(Aditya Narayan Mishra is Chief Executive Officer at CIEL HR Services.)

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Printable version | Oct 26, 2020 8:43:47 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/careers/sabbaticals-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/article20640178.ece

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