Sabbatical as HR Recession Survival Strategy?

Posted on: Tuesday, July 7th, 2009
Posted in: HR FYI, Blog | Leave a comment

One cool trend emerging from the global downturn is that some savvy firms that are not just firing folks, but offering them Sabbaticals instead.  Talk about civilized, sane, and exciting.  Yet employees, even highly paid lawyers, balk at the idea for obvious reasons:  fear of the future, the unknown and a real or perceived lack of financial stability. 

Yet the movement shows promise, since this may be the biggest boost for sabbaticals, well, ever.  We all wish the offers came out of rich coffers.  But if free time is the silver lining to this downturn, all is not lost!  This website goes gaga about BreakAways—but never once says that arranging one is cheap or easy. That’s particularly true when a monster-company institutes them.

  • As we reported earlier this year, the European auto industry has turned to all kinds of sabbatical schemes and temporary shutdowns in hopes of riding out the recession.  
  • Back in the states, at law firm Caldwater, Wichersham & Taft, a bunch of lawyers can take a “one-year, unrestricted sabbatical,” with medical bennies and one-third of their pay.  The company will match you with a nonprofit for volunteer work.  I’m in!   
  • The massive UK telecom-glomerate, BT, has created a “Time Out” package that hands you a year off with 25% of your pay.  There’s another option:  Take a cash bonus to go from full-time to part-time for year.  C’mon, friends:  This is the break you’ve been dreaming about!  Yet a company rep states there is “currently a low level of interest in taking sabbaticals because of operational pressures and people’s individual financial needs.”  Harrumph.  
  • One of Spain’s biggest banks, BBVA, tempts staff with 3-5 years off at 30% pay.  They guarantee you a job at the end of your Big BreakAway AND maintain your healthcare throughout.  You can even pursue other professional projects.  (Open a flower shop, caterer, or consultancy, anyone?)  You may shorten your work commitment to tend to relatives or your own education.  Spaniards can thank their tough labor laws; now, can they reap the rewards?
  • And finally, in friendly Finland, Labor Minister Tarja Cronberg reports that a study on Finland’s sabbatical program—in place since their last downturn in 1996—has proven to be successful.  Young people have especially benefitted.  Now there’s a small country that thinks BIG.  

All to say:  Sabbaticals live.  In fact, they thrive.  Now more than ever.  So even if you think, “Oh, I could never do that!!”  remember that your boss may one day encourage or insist.  So keep an open mind.  Keep some savings at the ready.  And keep on dreamin’ and schemin’…

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