From John Lewis to Heineken, top firms are retaining talent by offering sabbaticals
Making it onto The Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For list is a dream for most UK companies. That pull-out supplement which pops its pages out from one of the countries most loved dailies can be a company’s ticket to talent heaven.
Why? Because turning your business into a destination for job seekers makes your life a lot easier. The talent you need to drive your business forward will come to you.
Apart from perks, one of the important factors taken into consideration by the judges is whether a company offers sabbaticals or not. Over the Atlantic on the Forbes List of Best Companies to Work For, a quarter of those ranked offer paid sabbaticals as part of their perk list including Adobe, American Express and Deloitte. Over here, one company often associated with sabbaticals is John Lewis – also lauded as one of the best companies to work for.
“Our flagship sabbatical scheme is known as ‘long leave’, which gives partners with more than 25 years’ service at John Lewis paid leave for six months,” says Laura Whyte, personnel director at John Lewis.
“Many who take this use it as an opportunity to learn new skills or develop existing ones in a variety of different areas, from sports to languages. These skills are often transferable and partners can use them in their day-to-day role once back from sabbatical. As well as being an option which works for our partners, it is also beneficial for us as a business as it helps to attract and retain talented people.”
At a time when there are skills shortages in many industries in the UK, retaining staff has become an important goal for many businesses.
“There are plenty of studies about how sabbaticals are good for attraction but also importantly, retention,” says Barney Ely, director at Hays the recruiting specialist.
“People leave because they are fed up and run down but a break can freshen people up. It helps them to stay with the same business rather than go to a new organisation. Giving someone a sabbatical can increase motivation and simply knowing that a sabbatical is a choice can boost motivation too.”
The cost of losing an integral member of your team could far outweigh the cost of giving them some paid time off to pursue something for themselves. Offering sabbaticals has certainly helped to make John Lewis one of the country’s favourite employers and it is not alone.
“Managed well, there are no downsides to investing in these types of offerings,” says Paula Green, VP of HR – global regions, Waggener Edstrom (WE).
“After every seven years of service, employees are eligible for sabbatical to refresh and renew for their next stage of employment at WE. These programs provide employees with new perspectives, increases employees engagement and make WE a more attractive workplace to new candidates.”
WE, the PR company which counts Microsoft as one of its clients, doesn’t stop at offering its employees sabbaticals. Each year all employees are entitled to up to 16 hours of paid volunteer time – something which three-quarters of the PR giant’s global workforce took advantage of last year.
Giving employees time off to volunteer, or community leave as it is often referred to as, is another big draw when it comes to recruiting talent. It also helps companies to reach their CSR targets making it a clear win-win.
“Gen Y make up some 18% of our UK workforce and they are proving to be driven by different things than the generation before,” says Ely.
“Typically, they want a much more rounded and balanced work life – one where they believe they have a purpose. A company’s culture and what it gives back as well as achieves is a significant attraction for this new wave of employees.”
Heineken is another company that finds giving employees time to do something for the community reaps huge rewards. In a recent survey conducted by its community partner Your Square Mile, 40% of those surveyed said they are more likely to want to work for a company that supported its local community and 50% said they would feel proud of this company as a local employer.
“Heineken launched the pilot partnership to understand local priorities and engage our colleagues and the wider community in coming up with solutions to the challenges they face,” says David Paterson, head of public affairs & corporate responsibility at Heineken UK.
“As well as benefitting the communities that we operate in, we also benefit from better colleague engagement. By helping our colleagues to make a difference in their communities, we increase pride in our business, see greater colleague satisfaction and have stronger brand ambassadors. Doing the right things well also allows us to attract the best talent to our business.”
Investment in volunteer and sabbatical programs has proven to result in happier employees and create stronger work place morale. But if a company wants to implement these kinds of benefits they must be careful in how they go about it.
“You need to get your rules and policies in place and not have one rule for one and a different one for another,” says Ely.
“Make sure from a sabbatical point of view that you don’t stitch yourself up by saying employees will have exactly the same job when they come back. Organisations need to be flexible so give a choice of coming back at the same level not necessarily the same job.
“When it comes to community leave I would encourage employees to take part in projects that will serve as development for them.”
There’s no denying that these benefits aren’t for every company, just as they aren’t for every employee but where suitable they have proven to be very effective. At a time when the recruitment market is incredibly competitive, perhaps giving your staff time away from the company is the best way to keep them in it.
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