Considering Retiring? Try a Sabbatical Instead

Sabbaticals offer an opportunity for employees to recharge, pursue a travel dream, learn a new skill, or give back through volunteerism in ways that would not be possible by taking the usual vacation time," says Amanda Fallon, senior director of corporate relations for Genentech. One Genentech employee moved to Spain to learn flamenco. Another went on safari in Africa. Some, like Schmutzler, use the time to care for babies or aging relatives.

For older workers, the extended break can give them a much-needed breather from a demanding career without having to retire.

Sabbaticals Can Leave You Feeling Refreshed

Typically, a sabbatical is offered to employees after four to six years on the job, with additional sabbaticals possible every four to six years after that. Citigroup Inc. launched its sabbatical program in January for full-time employees with at least five years of tenure, and already more than 100 employees have applied to take one, according to Diane Arber, head of human resources for Citigroup's Institutional Clients Group, based in New York.

After more than a year of juggling work and family responsibilities during COVID-19 lockdowns at home, many employees are feeling burned out. Although vacations can provide some respite, they're generally not long enough. Compared with most European countries, where employees get four or more weeks of vacation a year, U.S. workers get an average of two weeks of annual leave, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Even then, Americans don't fully disconnect from their jobs. A 2017 U.S. survey from Internova Travel Group found that more than 62% of respondents checked emails and voicemail messages while on vacation. "We recognize how hard it is to unplug, especially when our workforce continues to navigate remote working while balancing personal and professional lives," says Suzanne Ledesma, director of global benefits and wellness at PayPal, which has been offering sabbaticals as an employee perk since 2005, when its parent company was eBay.

It's no coincidence that Citigroup's program is called R3, for refresh, recharge and reenergize. "The pandemic taught us that well-being needs to be prioritized. Employee expectations are changing," Arber says. At software company Autodesk, where employees are eligible for a six-week sabbatical after every four years, the program was designed so that employees "return to work not only refreshed but also excited about new ideas and ready to tackle new challenges," says Stacy Doyle, the company's director of brand communications

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