How business leaders can benefit from learning sabbaticals

Business leaders benefit greatly from learning sabbaticals that allow them to learn new skills.

By U2B Staff 

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Learning sabbaticals are planned breaks from one’s job to enrol in a training, education, development, or upskilling programme to facilitate professional growth. With the current uncertain economic environment, it may be the right time for you to consider this option for your employees in leadership roles.

They appear to be a growing trend in recent years, even before the pandemic. A survey from the Society for Human Resource Management found that the percentage of companies offering sabbaticals (both paid and unpaid) rose to nearly 17% of employers in 2017.

Learning sabbaticals can range from a few days to a few months or even longer, depending on the training programme, and are often implemented to fill skills gaps within the company or to avoid layoffs.

Some examples of companies who have successfully embedded learning sabbaticals in the organisational structure is Buffer, which offered employees 50% of their salary for a 12-week learning sabbatical supervised by a manager with regular check-ins, and Deloitte,  where employees have the option to take a three to six-month sabbatical to pursue career development opportunities while receiving 40% of their salary.

Opportunity for business leaders to develop new skills

Learning sabbaticals offer managers and business leaders to develop and hone skills without the distraction of the daily work routine.

Halelly Azulay, president and founder of TalentGrow LLC, a management consulting firm in Los Angeles, said, “A sabbatical is a planned, strategic job pause during which an employee takes time to do research, volunteer and learn new skills,” but also stressed that the explicit purpose of a learning sabbatical is education.

She said the difference between a learning sabbatical and upskilling while working full-time is that it allows the employee to become fully immersed.

“A learning sabbatical is not the perfect fit for everyone, but for some learning goals it is a better employee development approach than some of the other commonly used development methods such as training, self-directed learning or stretch assignment when total immersion in the learning process can yield [more] significant compound benefits than dabbling or learning incrementally.”

Researches of the study Creative Disruption: Sabbaticals for Capacity Building and Leadership Development in the Nonprofit Sector surveyed 61 leaders at five different nonprofit organisations that offer sabbatical programmes.

According to the study, “Eighty-seven percent of the leaders who responded report increased confidence in doing their jobs after their sabbaticals. Greater confidence enabled leaders to free themselves for higher-level work in policy and advocacy, raise funds more effectively, and think out of the box more freely.

By offering learning sabbaticals, companies can also fill skills gaps in technology and other cutting-edge areas without needing to hire new employees.


Learning sabbaticals can prevent burnout

At Morris Financial Services in Mount Pleasant, S.C., 10 full-time staff members are eligible for a month-long paid sabbatical after every five years of employment, along with their annual vacation days.

President and owner Kyra Morris said, “The goal is to encourage employees to refresh themselves by doing something that brings them joy.”

It was also pointed out in the Creative Disruption: Sabbaticals for Capacity Building and Leadership Development in the Nonprofit Sector study that learning sabbaticals allow organisations to ‘stress-test’ their organisational chart, as no team should be wholly dependant on any one person to the point that productivity halts during a learning sabbatical.

Learning sabbaticals can also prevent mental and physical burnout, as the stresses and demands for business leaders can take a toll over time.

According to the study, “Time away from the daily grind of high-pressure work routines can rejuvenate body, mind, and spirit. It can also bring an executive to new perceptions and re-framings that ultimately create greater leadership capacity in his or her organisation.”

Spending time away to refresh and rejuvenate in a professional capacity is also beneficial to the organisation, as managers return with new energy for the job, which results in increased productivity.

It was found that three-quarters of business leaders in the study found rejuvenation and reflection that either helped them crystallise an existing vision for their organisations or frame a new one. Nearly half of those said they have had success in implementing their vision.

“These leaders include farmworker organizers who have completely reorganized their approach; a museum executive who was planning on departing but whose new vision for a museum program that related to the large immigrant community in his city brought him new energy for the job; and a leader of a community-based program who brought back a vision of crossing boundaries and building collaboration with other community groups rather than competing with them for a larger piece of the pie. ”

If your company decides to offer learning sabbaticals, you can choose from a number of online training courses and certifications on online learning platforms such as Edx, Coursera, and Udemy for them to upskill in.

You can also check out industry-specific upskilling programmes offered by tech giants such as Microsoft and Huawei for specific education in new learning paths.