How a 3,000km run through New Zealand affects employers – agreeing sabbaticals

Firstly, let’s get it out of the way, I’m a complete bookworm. When I’m not at work (reading documents, emails, cases, you name it), I’m reading my Kindle during my lunch hour and on my commutes to and from work. I’m that guy that regularly averages 2-3 books per week and, frankly, my wife has long accepted that she shares my attention with ‘that Kindle’.

Why is this relevant? Well, recently, I’ve started reading a fascinating book called ‘The Pants of Perspective’ by Anna McNuff. Summarised briefly, this book highlights the talk of a woman who decided she needed a break from her regular, office-based job, so arranged a 6-month sabbatical to run 3,000km from the south to north of New Zealand with a backpack and small tent.

Rather surprisingly, my main double-take whilst reading the opening part of the book wasn’t the idea to run 3,000km across a huge country through sub-zero temperatures into 40’c degree heat but, rather, that she persuaded her employer to grant her a 6 month sabbatical in the first place!

You’d think that an employment law Solicitor would deal with plenty of sabbatical applications and that, out of all the various applications you could make to your employer, a sabbatical wouldn’t be seen as hugely controversial but, alas, no. Why? Well, partly because they are rare and uncommon and, because of this, employers don’t usually know what to do with them.

Is this is the main reason? Well, perhaps not. In reality, sabbaticals used to be common after staff had been at an organisation for a lengthy period of time (i.e. 15, 20 or 25 years) and, nowadays, it is much rarer for staff to hit those periods of service. Partly because of this, it is normally only really in academic roles that staff commonly obtain sabbaticals, albeit sometimes these aim to facilitate research and/or the authoring of articles rather than an ‘escape’ from the workplace.