Recharge Your Business |
Reprinted from Southwest Airlines Spirit September 2001
WILL GIVING YOUR EMPLOYEES PERIODIC SABBATICALS MAKE THE COMPANY MORE SUCCESSFUL?
BY DAVE SORTER
Roger E. Herman wears big, blue, fluffy Cookie Monster slippers at is office. In a way, this illistrates his view on tomorrow's workplace. Herman, who calls himself a "Strategic Business Futurist" and runs the Herman Group, a Greensboro, North Carolina-based business-consulting firm believes in taking work seriously. But he also believes that employees are looking for more enjoyment out of their jobs and more balance - in other words, fun and extracurricular activities - outside the cubicle.
Many corporate executives practice what Herman preaches in the 10 business books he has written with his wife and partner Joyce L. Gioia, and in the many speeches he gives nationwide about employee recruitment and retention, workforce and workplace trends, corporate culture, and the corporation of the future.Repeat clients include Arthur Andersen, Lucent Technologies, McDonald's, and Wal-Mart.
More than anything, Herman believes employees have the advantage in today's market. One result is that employees have more choices about their work situation. This creates myriad changes in the workplace culture - one of which is that more and more people have started taking periodic sabbaticals which Herman calls "midcareer retirements." One will take extended time off and do something outside the realm of the job, then return to work with the old employer or a new one.
Herman recently spent some time in his office to discuss with Spirit the trend toward these repeated sabbaticals.
SPIRIT: The thought of simply dropping out of the workforce for a time would seem contradictory to today's workaholic culture. What's changing?
Roger E. Herman The twentysomethings and young thirtysomethings feel they want to have more control over their careers. After they've put in eight to ten years working long hours, they feel it's time for a rest, to pull back and regroup. So they take time off.... Then, they come back into the workforce reenergized, refocused. They go through the same pattern for another eight to ten years. They will continue this pattern on into their 70s and 80s and retirement as we know it today will cease to exist in another generation to generation and a half. They're thinking, "why should I wait until my 70s to retire? How many 70-year-olds do you see hang gliding?"
SPIRIT: How will employees pay for the breaks?
REH: Sabbaticals will be funded by the employee, saving money along the way.
SPIRIT: Might employers pay for part of the sabbatical if the employee will come back afterward?
REH: Yes. The employer can continue to pay the employee's salary, perhaps at a lower level, with the employee doing some research or consulting for the company. One idea would be, You work for us in our plant here in Tennessee. We've got this plant outside Paris. Why don't you go over there for a few months and take the family. And, while you're touring Europe, go to our operation there, look at what they're doing, and get to know the people, build some relationships, and see if there are some ideas we can bring back here to apply in Tennessee."
SPIRIT: Colleges traditionally encourage professors to take sabbaticals every seven years. Might something similar become part of our corporate culture?
REH: A hotel group allows the general managers of hotels, after they've been there for five years, to take some time off, and the company will pay for it. Creative things are being done by a number of companies, recognizing that this mid career phenomenon is going to happen. So if they can do some things to hold on to these people - fine, take a sabbatical, then come back here. Then what they've done is built the potential of holding onto those people past the sabbatical.
SPIRIT: What are some more of those creative things?
REH: Another approach is "We'll continue our benefits" Or "We'll make benefits available to purchase for 'x' period of time." Or "you're going for some more education. We'll recognize that with this education you're more valuable to us, so when you come back we'll start you at this higher salary."
SPIRIT: How do companies fill the shoes of the "midcareer retiree"?
REH: They can use this as an opportunity for people who have the potential to move into that position to try it out. It becomes part of the training and development program. Or they can bring somebody over from France to work at the plant in Tennessee, to fill in as an "exchange student."
SPIRIT: What will employers gain by hiring someone who has just completed a sabbatical as opposed to someone who comes directly from another job?
REH: The employee is probably going to be more relaxed, more focused, more energized, and more productive. Also, people taking sabbaticals are going to be more worldlier. Last December, my wife and I met a couple on an airplane - he was a corporate executive, she was a teacher - who had just traveled all over the world hiking. I would imagine that with all those experiences they went through, it's like "Nothing can stop me. I can do whatever you put in front of me, because I've had these experiences that other people here have not had. That makes me a stronger person."
SPIRIT: Might employers create a new type of position for people in their 70s and 80s who might have been CEOs but don't want the pressure of the top job now? Perhaps as a mentor?
REH: Absolutely. And not just people who have been CEOs, CFOs, COOs, but people who have tradesmen, technicians. They have that expertise and the sense that comes from that kind of environment, that they can do a lot of things to help people grow. A lot of people who have been there, done that at different levels tend to be very effective at coaching - helping people grow and teaching them how to cope with the continual, unprecedented challenges that they will be faced with.
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