If you google ‘sabbatical’ the definition that pops up first is thus:
1. a period of paid leave granted to a university teacher or other worker for study or travel, traditionally one year for every seven years worked.
“she’s away on sabbatical”
I think the concept of having a sabbatical in academic circles is relatively common and not considered out of the ordinary. Not so for many other professions and my world – the charity/non-profit world is one of them.
The problem is that I had worked for my employer for 18 years and to put it bluntly I was knackered. I was still motivated by my cause and also by the amazing team I had around me but I was tired and my health was suffering.
As well as a high-level and often stressful job (anyone responsible for generating money in to their charity will know what I mean) I travel a lot in my role, both in the UK and abroad. Now the life of planes, trains and automobiles along with airports, train stations, and hotels is not all its cracked up to be. If I had a £1 for every time someone coo’d when I said I was off to London, or Cape Town, or Barcelona…and don’t get me wrong I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities my career has offered (but I have also worked hard for it). The reality is often far less glamorous – stressing over lost suitcases (I haven’t travelled with hold luggage now for years no matter where I go or for how long!); eating on the run (there is only so many Marks and Spencer or Waitrose sandwiches one can eat) and pining for a hot meal; beds….oh the beds! – its a hit and miss affair what type of room you will get, where it is located in the hotel (opposite the elevators is a absolute no!) and the calibre of the pillows and mattress; Noise – hotel room noise – you have a 09.00 lecture to deliver however the rest of the hotel is in hen and stag mode until the early hours; The Flight – the person in front of you wants to have their seat reclined for the entire journey and you have no room to watch the little box tv in front of you, nor hold a book to read, nor to eat food should any arrive (travelling the entire way back from Sydney like this has scarred me for life (as you will learn as you get to know me through my blog patience and tolerance are not virtues I was at the front of the queue for when they were being handed out), then there are the lovely kiddies who want to kick the back of your seat for hours. Another issue is our penchant for iPads and other hand-held devices – and those folk among us who want to watch them without earphones – on trains, on planes, in the restaurant on the table next to you – if I wanted to watch the footy or the latest Tomb Raider then I would do so with MY EARPHONES IN – I do not need you to share your interests with me! …OK sorry I have gone in to rant mode…back to the issue of the Sabbatical!
We looked long and hard at the concept of sabbatical before formulating our policy on it – and given that the charitable sector has been in for a bit of bashing in recent years (Kid’s Company anyone? The sad death of Olive Cooke. The more recent safeguarding scandals in large charities – I could go on and I could write a blog about it – 🤔 hmmm, perhaps I will…) we were concerned about how providing a sabbatical may be construed. We all agreed I needed one and we also all agreed that the reputation of our charity was important too. So we started doing our due diligence and researching options. Fortunately the concept of leaders in charities and non-profits taking sabbaticals is not as rare in the US as it is here in the UK and we found lots of evidence to suggest not only was a sabbatical important for the individual (reflection, revival, regeneration) but also for the company – in particular in two important ways:
2. The costs associated with providing a sabbatical to a senior leader are significantly lower than the costs associated with vacant senior posts and recruitment-costs associated with filling senior roles.
Indeed in the US and Canada there are some organisations set up to provide grants to enable non-profit leaders to take sabbaticals. The concept of taking a sabbatical even has a term – ‘creative disruption’. If you are at all interested in more detail about looking after your staff then a great starting point is a 2009 study conducted on facilitating sabbaticals in non-profit organisations:
Having said all of this I do think sabbaticals need thoroughly researching for any organisation and a clear policy needs to be drawn up – this is an opportunity to be clear about the rationale for sabbaticals in your organisation and also provides transparency – a word that some elements of the charitable and non-profit sectors have yet to embrace. Procedure is more problematic and having had time to reflect on the way we delivered my sabbatical then processes and procedures of delivering a sabbatical need to be tailored to, and built around, the individual in question.
In respect of the value of sabbaticals Rick Tobias, Executive Director of Toronto’s Yonge Street Mission says:
“If people in the academic world need sabbaticals, I would argue that the need is higher among those working with broken and wounded people, or healthy people with high needs, such as new immigrant families.”
He goes on to point to the high rates of burnout, compassion fatigue and rapid turnover among people working in these areas of the charitable sector, and believes that sabbaticals are effective at combatting this burnout.
Now some of you may still be sceptical about sabbaticals in the charity/non-profit sector or indeed about the need for sabbaticals at all. So this bit is for you…
In January I had a routine check-up with my doctor. My heart was tachycardic (over 100 beats per minute) and we established I was operating like this a good deal of the time. My resting heart rate even when asleep was still in the 80’s and so I was bundled off for an urgent cardiology appointment…turns out I wasn’t yet about to drop off my perch but this was a real wake-up call for me that has resulted in not only the sabbatical, but a will to lose some weight and get fitter – all three of which you will be pleased to hear I am on with. For those of you who need hard-evidence below is a screen shot from my Fitbit which shows my resting heart rate in the month before my sabbatical (on the left) and my resting heart rate half-way through my sabbatical (on the right).
I am not suggesting the sabbatical and my absence from working life is solely responsible for the dramatic reduction in my resting heart rate in only six-weeks but I am arguing that the reduction in stress and the TIME to dedicate to myself, my fitness and my body IS responsible, and so ladies and gentlemen I leave you with the concept of The Sabbatical.