Recent Trends in Human Resource Management

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sabbatical Saga - Best People Management

Sabbatical Saga - Best People Management

Taking time off or unpaid leave is now looked upon as a relief variation to the ongoing layoffs

Key Learnings:

Layoffs have become more of a norm today, and both the employers and employees are finding the entire process agonising

Sabbaticals and programmes like unpaid leave offer benefits to both the employer and the employees

The current economic slow turn has seen an increase in the number of employers opting to offer sabbaticals as opposed to layoffs

According to the website yoursabbatical. com, a sabbatical can be defined as "a planned job pause - paid or unpaid - whereby an individual takes time to rest, travel, volunteer, learn a new skill, or fulfill a lifelong dream before returning to work. Eligibility and benefits will also vary from company to company."

With so many layoffs happening, experts urge more and more organsiations to use sabbaticals as an easier alternative to 'distressing layoffs.'

Carol Sladek, a principal in Hewitt Associates' work/life consulting practice, says, "It's a longer-term solution than just saying, 'OK, today we're in trouble. We need to eliminate jobs.' Sabbatical is a good alternative- especially in an economic downturn."

Why sabbaticals?

Apart from doing away with layoffs, the benefits of offering sabbaticals are many. Employers look at it as one way of retaining their valued employees, re-engaging them, reduced turnover and no re-hiring costs. Despite the downturn, employers are optimistic of better days ahead. And keeping in mind this optimism, employers are in support of sabbaticals.

Sadly, many organisations are still unaware of all the benefits a sabbatical programme has in store. According to Hewitt Associates, 'only 4% of employers offer unpaid sabbaticals'. The primary reason for these dismal figures is the refusal to let go, whether it is leave or the employees. Also, many fear the loss of star performers. Will they ever return back or look for greener pastures?

To state, sabbaticals are an essential part of work/life balance and understandably helpful in the grim economy too. Hiring new set employees is financially precarious as the cost of replacing an employee is almost twice the salary. Given these restraints, employers are opting for unpaid time offs also known as sabbaticals. Sabbaticals initiate and promote 'cross training' amongst the rest of the employees. For instance, replacing the employee who has taken off implies that another employee assumes more responsibility and new learning of the job.

Sharon Klun, director of work/life initiative, Accenture, sabbaticals like the ones at her firm "could be a tool to help get companies through a bumpy economy."

Companies that offer sabbaticals

It is not surprising that most companies that offer sabbaticals have been featured on 'companies we want to work for', 'fortune 500 companies' and the 'best places to work for'.

Accenture has been one of the forerunners in espousing 'sabbaticals' as a great way to rejuvenate, reconnect and retain employees. With already a large number of work/life programmes in its kitty, Accenture came up with sabbaticals or unpaid leave after an employee survey revealed a massive appeal for the same. 'Future Leave' as the sabbatical programme is known at Accenture offers 'time off' that can extend up to three months and can be availed once in every three years.

The upshot of this programme is employees use this time off to learn new things, dedicate time to family, volunteer to help the needy or some even take a trip to the Himalayas. Rejuvenating is the key here. Since, the entire programme is unpaid for, the employees set aside some amount from their salaries every month. Once they have sufficient amount to fund their 'sabbatical' they take time off. The employees are enthusiastic about funding their sabbaticals. In addition to this, Accenture conducts 'personal engagement surveys' to comprehend how well these initiatives work in ensuring a fair and commendable existence.

At Deloitte, sabbaticals can be extended up to five years and during the unpaid leave period the employees have access to mentoring, small work projects and training at low costs. This is to ensure that the employees are not completely detached from the organisation. They believe that with these initiatives the "highly valued individuals, can re-enter the workforce and we would be at the top of their list to get them back, rather than leave the firm, get disconnected and not come back."

Sabbaticals, what it offers the employer and the employees'?

Let us list in short the benefits of a sabbatical to the organsiations:

1. Talent pool: Since the high performing employees stay on the payroll, the organisation retains talent, knowledge, expertise and also cuts re-hiring costs.
2. Attracts future talent: Organsiations with work/life balance initiatives are almost on every talented individual's wish list. Thus it helps in attracting potential talent.
3. Fulfilled workforce: The entire workforce is happy with such initiatives and the cross training involved is a learning process for employees.

4. Since it is seen as an alternate to layoffs employees, future employees and clients are happy. The repute of such organsiations are higher especially during tough times.
5. An encouraging workplace attracts and retains talents, commands greater credibility amongst clients and stakeholders and is seen as a whiff of fresh air in the market.

Sabbaticals for the employees:

1. Helps them rediscover themselves , relearn and paves way for deeper introspection

2. With this kind of awareness and refreshment, employees are better equipped mentally and physically to take on challenges at work once they resume work.

3. With sabbaticals, the commitment and loyalty of the employees towards the organsiations are deepened

The benefits of a sabbatical are manifold, from new passion for work, better creativity, and most importantly higher commitment of the workforce. Taking a sabbatical needn't be treated with trepidation; it is just another way to learn.

Kathie Lingle, Director of a global human resources association sums up the response to pressurising work environments as "Smart organisations are looking at how to keep people whole and sane with them."

Sabbaticals maybe the answer!

Reference: TheManageMentor.

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