Are Sabbaticals Realistic?

Juliana Stancampiano
Oxygen CEO & Author
Brené Brown announced a 3 month sabbatical. Companies are adding them to attract and retain talent. As many struggle with burnout, how do we realistically balance profitability and people’s needs?
May 11, 2022

Imagine an announcement to your 3.5 million followers on LinkedIn in the form of:

I'm leaving for three months. You won't hear anything from me on social media. And all of my employees are leaving for four weeks too.

It's bold, brave, and let's be honest, un-American. But that’s exactly what Brené Brown did this week.

While a three-month sabbatical does sound amazing, I am trying to get my head wrapped around how it could work in the world of work we have today. So I am hopeful that Brené is also doing research while she is out to share what she’s learned with us when she’s back!

The five-day, 40 hour work week started over 100 years ago. But after data showed people were working an extra 3 hours/day in 2020, along with the mental health crisis, and the rise of newly labeled conditions like “parental burnout” the consideration of creative alternatives like sabbaticals began to rise. Yet, even If you're lucky enough to have benefits, many people get only 2-3 weeks of annual vacation time. You might have paid maternity leave. But options to the norm are hard to come by, given that benefits are notoriously poor in the US compared to other highly developed countries.

I had the benefit early in my career to work across Western Europe and observed first-hand the differences in how vacation is treated there versus what I was conditioned to from my American upbringing. I distinctly remember a Senior Director being on vacation when we needed his opinion on a big decision. I sat there thinking “this is why he gets paid so much, text the guy!” I quickly learned that was an abhorrent idea. I quickly came to value the downtime when I needed it. It’s something that stuck with me so strongly that when I opened my own company in the US. I always gave a very generous vacation package. It wasn’t always easy as a small company, but I firmly believed that if people took real down time to metaphorically unplug, then they are more productive and loyal the rest of the time.

Still, overly generous time off is not a norm in our society by any stretch, yet there are signs of a shift in mindset, and Brené is definitely leading this one.

The shift is more than likely due to the growing realization of the toll that has been taken by mental health crisis, burnout and longer work days. I have worked diligently with a few employees to try to help them with their options while remaining a good steward to my own business. Honestly, it’s seldom an easy choice. We are a cash based business, we thrive on people being busy with billable client work. And when someone is out, someone else is left taking up the work, either another employee or an external person, so I, the business owner, is taxed twice. Messing with cash flow is taboo because it can ruin the system that supports people’s rights to the fulfillment of their needs.

As humans, we need an enhanced sense of self-awareness so we know when we need to take a walk around the block to cool off; or check out with a personal day; or maybe take leave because personal challenges are interfering with our ability to be productive. (or vice versa).

What I can say as a CEO, business owner, and compassionate human, is that ultimately taking care of your people and knowing what’s needed is the top priority. We aren’t robots, as much as many executives might wish that were the case when Wall Street is hitting back on their stock. And as a business, we know that when we take care of people, it comes back to us in the long run.

There’s no doubt that sabbaticals are getting more attention, and seeing someone as well-known as Brené Brown taking a three-month sabbatical will popularize the notion and perhaps be offered more frequently at more companies. What I hope is that we all get some amazing learning and insights from her on how she did it, how it was sustained and how it ultimately worked for her team.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, and I’ll continue to explore this topic in the coming weeks.

#mentalhealthawareness #brenebrown

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