F*ck It, I Need a Break! Why Rest and Recovery are Key to Success
The average person in the EU works for 36 years. That’s a helluva long time. And for many people, they have to navigate the trials and tribulations of working life with a standard holiday allowance, substandard flexible working policy, and impractical expectations from their just-as-hard-pressed manager. This builds resentment, leading to a significant retention problem for businesses around the world.
Eat, sleep, work, repeat. Living for the weeknd. TGIF. Sunday blues. For many, these expressions are a hard-to-face reality.
Of course, no amount of aspirin will fix your retention headache overnight. The cure’s a lot more complex, and keyhole surgery’s often needed to repair and rebuild your organisation. You’ll need to take a deep dive into your company’s inner workings – your culture – and how you set out reward, recognition, support, hiring, talent development, job design, policies, and so much more.
But even for companies that have nailed engagement and retention struggles, over time employees crave something else. Time and space away from work.
The case for sabbaticals: boost employee well-being and loyalty
Work should be fun. Rewarding. Empowering. But it’s also hard. Regardless the amount of enjoyment you get in your day-to-day role, there will come a point when you need to switch off – to clear your headspace.
A two-week trip to the Algarve doesn’t cut it. Naturally it’ll take a few days to unwind. To decompress. To detach yourself from checking ‘that one email’. Then by the time you’ve changed your habits, your brain will start to prepare for the Monday morning agenda – or that task you pushed back on.
How often do you hear people say: “I had a nice time away. It was good to switch off, but it went so quickly!”? In a world of work, the valuable space needed to decompress is a fraction of our time.
The power of sabbaticals: insights from Happy
I spoke to Henry Stewart, Chief Happiness Officer at Happy – a company that has seemingly mastered the challenge of retention. In fact, there are nine people in the organisation that have been with Happy for more than 20 years.
To this, Henry says: “We don’t lose many people.”
Happy launched their sabbatical benefit in 1997, and offer a month of paid leave for someone after six years with the company (and for every six years thereafter).
Henry says: “It’s all part of the wellbeing strategy, and one of the things that helps us retain people. It’s a time for people to refect, and to come back more energised – a reward for the benefit they’ve given to the company. For the people I work closely with, I’ve seen a real difference.”
This is backed up by Happy’s Cathy Busani: “I have always felt super refreshed after mine. It's great to have the extra time to do what you want – it has always felt like an absolute treat and privilege and quite special. And I've always looked forward to coming back to work afterwards and reconnecting with everyone.”
Henry has recently returned from a sabbatical of his own, after taking an interrail trip around Europe. This was preceded by a sabbatical in 2014 – time he spent travelling to Costa Rica.
Henry adds: “This is my second sabbatical, but the first was even better. At that time I remember recording a video and Nicky [Happy team member] said, ‘Henry, you look so tired – we can’t put this out.’ We never did put the video out. But there was a significant change in my wellbeing when I returned. That sabbatical was key.”
“This time I was more at ease, more relaxed and generally less stressed. But it still gave me the time and space to step away from the business.”
The energizing lift of sabbaticals for employees
The caveat to all of this, is having the right measures in place to ensure people aren’t burnt out at work to begin with – something Henry mentioned had been put right between his first and second sabbatical.
However, despite the support and wellbeing mechanisms you have in place – sometimes people just need time away.
I took my first sabbatical at Reddico last year, travelling to New Zealand for five weeks. This was off of the back of launching our own length of service recognition programme, with everyone in the team eligible for a 5-week paid sabbatical after five years.
I’ve been with Reddico for over eight years. And I’ll be completely honest, I needed the break.
There was no standout reason for this. Not a single event or moment that had led to me feeling burnt out. Demotivated. Lacking energy. Struggling to make it through from one day to the next. Other people had picked up on it to – even mentioning a shift in my behaviour in our latest round of 360 reviews.
And the remedy was space. A chunk of time I could devote to clearing my head, getting out of the day-to-day. Doing something different. You may think this some lefty, snowflake whinge. But for me, for Henry, and for all the billions around the globe who want to turn up and be counted for – day in, day out – the benefits of this extended break are impossible to argue against.
How to implement a sabbatical policy at your company
Looking to add a sabbatical to your company’s offering? Here are three reasons why it’s such a great idea.
1. Achieving life goals and career growth without having to make a choice
There’s an unwritten rule, that in life you have two opportunities to travel the world for any sustained period of time. After leaving school or university. And after retiring. Want to travel whilst working a full-time career? Tough sh*t.
For those who aren’t keen on waiting out the 40+ year stopgap, your seemingly only other choice is to force matters and resign. But it doesn’t have to be like this. A sabbatical gives your team an opportunity to realise their travelling ambitions, tick something off of their bucket list, and explore what the world has to offer. You can even go one step further, and offer overseas working policies – giving your team a chance to travel abroad temporarily and work at the same time.
2. Opportunity to reflect and recharge
I’ve covered this point throughout, but the benefits of taking time away from the everyday to free your headspace, clear your mind, and stoke the dying flames, are huge. With a sabbatical policy in place, you’re able to make this a reality – where work, and everything that comes with it – takes a backseat. Delete the apps, switch off social media, set an out of office, and get away.
3. Rewarding employee achievements
If you think about it too much, it becomes a plot, rather than a reward. Putting everything else aside, paid sabbaticals are a chance to celebrate the work, efforts and achievements someone has contributed in their time with the company. And as a reward – don’t forget that everyone is different. Whilst a sabbatical may be great for many, others could prefer alternative recognition. Use this as an opportunity to be inclusive of your whole team, and come up with a range of ideas to celebrate and reward people across the business.
I’ve returned to Reddico in 2023 full of a refreshed and revitalised feeling of hope, energy, motivation, and commitment to making the company a highly successful great place to work. Ideas are easier to come by. People are easier to talk to. A state of active listening is easier to achieve.
Suddenly, the future looks a lot brighter.