In the late 1980s, I started to work for a Silicon Valley computer maker. As a tech company, they incorporated several personnel benefits that Silicon Valley companies used to attract talent. A company-sponsored “beer bust” every Friday at 4:00 pm was one of the favorites.
But the most impactful was the sabbatical policy – every employee received 6 weeks of paid time off (in addition to your regular vacation time) after every 4 years of work. This sabbatical was to be taken in one chunk – go away from your job for 6 weeks and travel, go to school, take up a hobby, spend time with your family, then return renewed and invigorated. Many people, myself included, struggled through that fourth year only because there was a sabbatical waiting for them.
It was not unusual for someone to change their job, or to find a new job elsewhere, shortly after returning from their sabbatical. That 6 weeks away from their job gave them time to reflect on the work they were doing, their career path, their satisfaction with the work environment, and their life in general. And some of them took the leap to find something new, different, more suitable.
I am reminded of those sabbatical days as I consider the “re-employment” problem in these post-pandemic days. Employers are complaining that they cannot attract workers for their newly re-opened or expanded businesses. Political pundits insist that the government is paying too much in unemployment benefits, incenting lazy workers to stay on unemployment.
Maybe some workers made a choice to find a better life, to aim higher,
to become what they had once hoped to be.
But perhaps these months away from the job have allowed workers to think about the work they were doing, the pay, the benefits, the responsibilities, the supervision, the hours. Perhaps they took the time to examine the path they were on – to re-imagine the career path that they had once dreamed of, the one they were now too busy – too exhausted – to pursue at the end of the day. Maybe some – maybe many – workers made a choice to find a better life, to aim higher, to become what they had once hoped to be. Maybe they’ve moved on.
Taking time away from your daily, habitual work, honestly examining the path you are on, remembering the dreams and plans you once had – those are important steps in taking control of your own life. For all of the hardship that these past 16 pandemic-defined months have brought to so many, this forced, unpaid, and unexpected “sabbatical” may be a surprising blessing.