You probably heard of them in college – many of your favorite professors took a semester off to travel the world, do research or write a book. Now that you're in the real world, you could use a sabbatical, too – but is taking one a good move for your career? From an HR perspective, sabbaticals are a creative and kinder strategy to survey the workforce for those who are able and willing to volunteer for time off in order to avoid being forced to furlough unwilling workers.
Is a sabbatical right for you?
Sabbaticals are a great option if you have income reserves and a clear goal of something of value you would accomplish away from the office, such as writing a book, furthering your education, searching for other opportunities full-time, or taking the trip of a lifetime. The first choice for pursuing such opportunities is to use your vacation days or PTO hours. Sabbaticals are not the best option for those needing to take care of family members or to have elective surgeries. In those circumstances, use FMLA instead so your job is protected. Use a sabbatical to ensure that you are an even more valuable employee at the end of your time away. Stay in touch with the organization to keep up with changes, and be flexible about your return.
Taking a sabbatical in today's economy
In today's economy, employees should be wary of signing up for a sabbatical. Sabbaticals are high-risk ventures for the employee. Time off for a sabbatical does not come with the same legal protection of vacation days or FMLA. You are not always guaranteed a position when you are ready to return. If thinking about a sabbatical, make sure that HR policies have been updated and signed off on that outline how the organization will handle furloughs, layoffs, severances and re-entry into the workplace.
Remember that, in tough times, the organization’s memory grows even shorter, and out of sight is out of mind unless you are an extreme, top talent! Sabbaticals can definitely be career suicide. “Be there when you're needed or you won’t be needed,” is a familiar refrain from bosses, along with, “What have you sold for me today?” – meaning that you cannot ride on past accomplishments to preserve future assignments. Bottom line, accepting a sabbatical temporarily puts you outside the traditional career race track, development experiences and promotions. To compensate and mitigate the risks created by your choice, you must put yourself back in the driver's seat of your career. Create a plan for yourself with a desired ROI from the time off, and have clear goals and specific timelines and follow that plan. You should be able to account for your sabbatical on a resume with documentation of the impressive accomplishments that furthered your competencies – not a travelogue of great pictures.
Remember, you rock and Cy rocks!
Lead on my friend.