Time out please!

Posted by Flux on 

14 July 2011

What’s trending now?

Time Out.

Taking a Gap year is something we do as school leavers or in our early twenties, but more and more people are looking for similar experiences later in live. How does this fit in with having an established career? Does it fit in at all?

More and more companies are realizing the value in providing employees with time for travelling and sabbaticals. The number of companies on Fortune’s coveted “Best Companies to Work For” list that offer fully-paid sabbaticals keeps inching up. This year, 21 companies on the list offer sabbaticals, up from 19 in 2010 and 15 in 2009. Sabbaticals can become an opportunity for growth and developing potential for both employer and employee, when carefully planned and considered.

In a recent article published by a London based Fashion magazine about Gap years, Two Ceo’s and two Co-founders of international companies talk about what their Gap years meant to them, and how those experiences helped them to have the confidence to do what they are doing today. They also go on to say that they would be much more inclined to consider candidates for positions in their companies who have taken time to travel.

For companies looking to expand internationally, providing your employee with an opportunity for travel can mean that valuable knowledge could be gathered. Region specific knowledge and skills like learning a language can proof valuable in breaking into new markets. Inspiration and ideas can be triggered by being exposed to elements and problems that might not be experienced in ordinary day to day life.

Why it’s important?

Rapid social changes have resulted in a changing career landscape and ‘lack of challenge’ has been suggested relating to burnout complaints.  Elizabeth Pagano, cofounder of says that the concept of working for 40 years and then retiring is outdated. “People should be able to inject bursts of time off into their career paths.”
Professionals are subject to a higher risk of burn out as job stresses increase and factors like long commutes to work and rising property prices add to the pressure.
In Stefan Sagmeister’s talk on his own sabbaticals and how valuable it has been to his career, he points out that without a plan, it can be unsuccessful. Companies and employees could better benefit from sabbaticals by planning it as a kind of ‘project’. Asking questions about the reasons for the time off and what the employee wants to achieve from it, could help with drawing up a plan for the time off. Enrolling for a distance learning short course could be another way of making travel time more focused and successful.

Sabbaticals and Gap years should also include time for doing nothing. Time for being bored teaches us to cultivate the balance that leads to a less stressful life.  Being bored also activates the area of the brain that is responsible for self examination and reflection.

Zoran Josipovic, a research scientist and adjunct professor at New York University, has been conducting research in an effort to understand what scientists have dubbed the default network in the brain.

The default network activates when people reflect on matters that involve themselves and their emotions and Dr Josipovic has found that experienced meditators have the ability to keep both the default network, as well as the network used to perform tasks active. Dr Josipovic believes this ability to churn both the internal and external networks in the brain may lead to experience a harmonious feeling of oneness with a person’s environment.

What’s the butterfly effect?

Offering sabbaticals can benefit companies by increasing productivity and product quality,  by allowing employees time to improve their health, recover from job burnout, develop new skills or clarify career orientated goals. It could also help companies cut costs. In an economic down turn, offering employees an extended break could mean that they retain skills but save on the usual comprehensive salary package.

Sabbatical programs are also proving to be an attractive benefit for today’s job seekers. As thousands of millennials prepare to enter the workforce, candidates will be looking for employers who provide the work-play lifestyle that is priority for this group. Balanced and multiple activities are important to millenials and they are looking to constantly expand their horizons. Time off will refresh and foster innovation in the millennial workforce and employees will be less likely to be poached.

Millenials may well benefit from having genuine experiences as opposed to virtual experiences that may develop into e-personalities. In his book Virtually You, Elias Aboujaoude, a doctor at Stanford University, talks about the dangers of how an online life drastically alters personalities and influences decision making. Real interactions and facing ‘off-line’ issues, can benefit individuals by developing skills to relate to people on a humanitarian level and not just a virtual or business level.

The pioneers & global hot spots

More and more industries in North America and Europe are joining the list of companies offering sabbaticals. The list mostly contained the technology, legal and banking/investment industries but other industries are fast joining. In South Africa, work-balance and flexibility are one of the six points of criteria in which best employers are rated on and even though not many companies offer sabbaticals yet, it will certainly be something to be considered as time becomes our new commodity.

By Elizabeth Croeser

About Elizabeth

Elizabeth is an emerging writer who has worked in various creative fields both here and abroad.
She is a passionate trend spotter who continues to seek out new and innovative thoughts and threads

Image credit: Gallo Images/ Getty Images

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