The joys of a paid sabbatical

A seashell on the coastline

TEXT OF STORY

Tess Vigeland: Hopefully you got some time off to spend the holidays with family and friends. Hope there was a point in your vacation when you forgot about your responsibilities... maybe even what day of the week it was. That's what time off is supposed to do.

Now imagine having a few months away from the office -- with pay. It happens in Europe and surprise, it does happen here.

Marketplace's Jeff Tyler takes a look at one of the best occupational perks going: the sabbatical.


Jeff Tyler: Call it the seven-year stretch. Every seven years, employees at Intel get eight weeks of paid time off.

Diana Egusa spent her sabbatical in the Caribbean:

Diana Egusa: My husband and I rented a cabin on the beach in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands and we basically spent a month there just kind of hanging out and being beach bums.

Kicking back in the Caribbean was Egusa's antidote for excessive responsibility. The sabbatical is like a buffer against burn-out.

Egusa: I did a lot of snorkeling and we just kind of got to know the local routine. There was a place called the Rainbow Beach Bar. Everybody went there to watch the sunset.

Now, seven years later, Egusa has an infant and a toddler.

Egusa: Hey, look who I found. Who's that?

Owen: Tiger, tiger.

She's just about to start her second paid sabbatical.

Egusa: Mostly this time what I'm doing is spending more time this summer with my boys and having some family time.

Unfortunately, companies like Intel are in the minority. According to a report by the Society for Human Resource Management, only 4 percent of companies surveyed offered paid sabbaticals. Another 16 percent offer them without pay.

Some companies place restrictions on what employees do during their sabbaticals. After working for American Express for 10 years, workers can take off between one and six months to do volunteer work. One employee mentored low-income children through an arts program.

Bet Franzone is a spokesperson for American Express:

Bet Franzone: We know that volunteering is very important to our employees. We feel, as a company, that it's very important to give back to the community as well.

But it's not just about altruism. Working with charities, volunteers often learn new management skills. And Franzone says the program helps deter workers from quitting.

Franzone: Employees do return to the company feeling, you know, more rejuvenated and even feel a greater sense of loyalty to the company.

That was the case for Diana Egusa. After decompressing in the Virgin Islands, she says she returned to her job in human resources at Intel feeling reinvigorated.

Egusa: It was kind of a thing where I appreciated my job more because of that experience.

Some workers find that a time-out from the daily grind allows them to see their work with fresh eyes, or approach it from a new angle. But if your company hasn't yet come to appreciate the value of a sabbatical, it's up to you to persuade your boss.

Charlotte Anderson is the president of a human resources consulting firm called Amethyst and Iris. She suggests approaching the subject as a bargaining tool. If you can't negotiate a raise, she says, consider asking for a sabbatical.

Charlotte Anderson: I think it's really a very savvy move because a couple of the concerns employers have about salary increases -- number one is that they compound and the value of the sabbatical doesn't compound. It's a one-time offering.

To sell the idea, try to anticipate your employer's needs. Anderson says you should come up with a plan for who will cover for you while you're away so your absence won't create more stress.

Anderson: A good employee, particularly a good manager, will have taken stages to make his or her absence less impactful.

Of course, some employees leave and never come back. They take time off to figure out what to do for their next career. With any luck, it will include perks like an eight-week paid sabbatical.

Dreaming of tropical beaches from a land-locked cubicle, I'm Jeff Tyler for Marketplace Money.

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.

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