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.
Overall, however, this doesn’t really need to be the case. If you are an employer, a sabbatical request would simply be a case of agreeing a length of time (over which the employee isn’t paid) and agreeing that, at the end of that period, if they wanted to return to work, their job would be waiting for them. Looking at the big picture, it isn’t all too different to the task of organising Maternity Leave cover and, in the same way, the risk of that employee choosing not to return to work at the end of the agreed period is also probably the same as an equivalent staff member following Maternity Leave.
From an employee’s perspective, the worst your employer can say is ‘no’. However, in reality, if you are valued by your employer, it is normally possible to persuade them to arrange temporary cover for a specified period of time. At the end of the day, my view is normally ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’ and if your wish for time away (whether running through an entire country or otherwise) is strong enough and your employer says no, it may be that your alternative would be to inform your employer that, without a sabbatical, you’d be minded to leave.
Whilst I’m a keen runner, albeit more of a 10k trotter now compared to my half-marathon speedy Gonzalez days, the idea of running the length of a country (other than, perhaps, Luxembourg) sounds like a nightmare. 6 month of trying to deplete my mahoosive Kindle book library? Much better! But, whatever the reasons involved, sabbaticals should always be considered where an employee needs a break away from the workplace for a fixed period of time.