While a sabbatical program can benefit your accounting firm, implementing it can present challenges. For instance, how do you make it fair for everyone, and how do you pay for it? By planning ahead and considering several models, you can establish a sabbatical program that benefits everyone in your organization.
What Is a Sabbatical?
A sabbatical is an extended break from work. More than a lengthy vacation, the typical sabbatical lasts at least several months. Many universities have sabbatical programs that let professors take a full year off for every seven years worked.
Ideally, a worker uses a sabbatical to pursue something more than a tan. This could be travel, research, or some other achievement. One accountant might devote the time to developing an app for saving on taxes. Another might chase a dream utterly unrelated to accounting, such as writing a novel or visiting every continent.
Beyond that, no hard-and-fast rules define what is and isn’t a sabbatical. They can be employer-paid or self-funded or a mix of the two. They can cover two or three months or they can last a year or longer. You have the leeway to set up your sabbatical program in a way that best benefits your firm, employees, and clients.
What Are Benefits of a Sabbatical?
Set up the right way, a sabbatical program can benefit everyone involved. Sabbaticals help prevent employee burnout. Workers focus more on their jobs knowing they get to take time off to pursue their other interests.
A sabbatical program is also a great recruiting tool. Modern employees value work-life balance more than ever. Say you’re interviewing a promising accountant. The candidate, while career-focused, also wants to climb Kilimanjaro. That’s a hard goal to train for while working a full-time accounting job. Because you offer a sabbatical, the candidate can pursue her career as well as her mountain-climbing dream.
Even your clients benefit from sabbaticals. Clients want top-notch accountants working for them. A sabbatical program helps you attract these workers. Also, employees tend to perform their best work for clients when they’re engaged with their jobs. An occasional sabbatical can fend off burnout and keep workers motivated.
What Are Common Models for Sabbatical Programs?
How you structure your firm’s sabbatical program is entirely up to you. Here are some models that have worked for other companies:
Defined programs: Some firms define objectives for employees on sabbatical, requiring them to fulfill certain obligations. This could mean research, volunteer work, or completion of a project.
Unpaid programs: Particularly for smaller or newer businesses, unpaid sabbaticals might be most feasible. This doesn’t mean your employee is completely on her own, though. You could set up and administer a savings program that lets workers put money away for their sabbatical.
Option programs: Perhaps you want to give workers a choice between two or more defined sabbaticals. For instance, they can opt for a research project on the future of the industry, or spend a year doing volunteer audits for nonprofits.
Competitive programs: If you’re footing the bill for workers’ sabbaticals, then you’re probably inundated with requests. What employee wouldn’t want a year off, all expenses paid? Perhaps you turn the process into a competition. Whoever draws up the best sabbatical plan wins the leave and the money.
Sabbatical programs can also be scalable. Suppose your program becomes a rousing success. Your employees are accomplishing big things during their leave and returning as happier, more fulfilled workers. You could take your program to the next level by partnering with charities or other organizations to develop sabbatical projects benefiting the industry or the community at large.
Planning for a Sabbatical Participant’s Absence
Without proper planning, an employee’s sabbatical can place an undue burden on those left in the office. Before someone departs for a leave of absence, make sure you’ve prepared for that absence.
Scheduling and planning are key. You can’t just dump all an employee’s duties onto others the day she leaves. A slow transition over weeks or months works better. It’s also good to involve the employee who’s leaving in training those charged with taking up the slack.
You can avoid much of this problem by fostering cohesion and teamwork. When employees all work on islands, replacing one, whether temporarily or permanently, is difficult. When they work within larger teams, it’s easier to spread one’s work among the remaining members during an absence.
Dealing With Resistance
No matter which sabbatical model you choose, someone is bound to find it unfair. With the unpaid model, employees at the bottom of the pay scale might argue it favours co-workers who are well-off. The competition model could lend itself to charges of favouritism among judges.
To minimize resistance, involve the entire organization in planning the program. The end result might not please everyone, but at least people can’t complain they weren’t included in the planning.
The Financial Considerations
Sabbaticals can cost your firm money in more ways than one. It costs a lot to pay a worker not to work for six months or a year. Even if your employees self-fund their sabbaticals, the firm is still affected financially. One fewer worker means less productivity, which can lead to a drop in revenue. That’s why, again, it’s so important to plan for the absence. The easier and more seamless the transition, the less your bottom line suffers.
Sabbaticals help your firm recruit better talent, prevent employee burnout, and deliver better work to clients. But to be successful, they need to be well-planned. By involving your whole team and creating a program that works for everyone, you can reap the benefits of sabbaticals.