Work Sabbaticals: The Latest Nonprofit Retention Strategy

Sabbaticals are as previous because the Bible. And, for a lot of sectors, they’re as uncommon because the miracles described within the Outdated Testomony. The concept of a sabbatical is present in Leviticus, who acknowledged that within the seventh 12 months, “the land is to have a 12 months of relaxation.” Deuteronomy took this concept additional and proclaimed that each seven years, all money owed shall be forgiven. But right here we’re in 2022, with a great deal of money owed and little relaxation. 

Though the apply of taking work sabbaticals has been widespread for college professors, most companies and nonprofit organizations don’t provide this feature. Just lately, The Nice Resignation has led extra nonprofits to think about work sabbaticals as a software to recruit and retain proficient workers.

Challenges of nonprofit burnout

In one of the best of instances, nonprofit workers are sometimes overworked and underpaid. A lot of nonprofit work is emotionally draining, whether or not instantly aiding people, working with communities or driving public coverage to alter programs. 

This grew to become much more true throughout the pandemic: A 2021 nationwide survey of greater than 2,000 nonprofits by the Federal Reserve and the Nationwide Council of Nonprofits discovered that 75% of nonprofits “indicated that demand for his or her providers had elevated in contrast with pre-pandemic ranges,” whereas 40% reported a lower in workers.

Throughout the pandemic, the mixture of elevated job-related stress and, properly, a pandemic led many nonprofit staff to hunt new jobs that supplied increased pay and higher work-life stability. 

“Everybody has been much more pressured than standard. Plenty of this can be as a result of we’re nonetheless working below archaic programs not designed to maintain leaders over the long term,” says Vu Le, an internationally recognized keynote speaker, nonprofit chief and creator of the favored weblog Nonprofit AF.

In December 2021, a survey by the Nationwide Council of Nonprofits discovered that “one in three nonprofits (34%) shared job emptiness charges of between 10% and 19%, and a troubling 26% responded that they’d job openings for 20% to 29% of their positions.” When nonprofits lose workers, the price is twofold: the price to switch and prepare new workers in addition to prices to the group if providers or applications are strained or paused due to vacancies. 

What I found on sabbatical

In December 2019, after years of requesting a sabbatical, my board of administrators authorised a 12-week paid sabbatical deliberate for June 2020, after our legislative session concluded. We pushed the sabbatical again two years in order that I might steer the group by the pandemic and be capable of journey safely. My sabbatical ran from Memorial Day to Labor Day. 

Earlier than I started my sabbatical, I imagined what it could be like—what I could be like after three months away from work with out monetary stress. I imagined returning like a conquering heroine, refreshed, in peak bodily situation, with new triumphs and insights to share. I’m sorry to report that I haven’t misplaced the load I gained throughout the pandemic and have but to efficiently incorporate a powerful train routine into my life. Nonetheless, my month-to-month migraines have gone from lasting three days to solely 5 hours. I’ve extra vitality, much less stress and my insomnia has disappeared.

The size of my sabbatical meant that I used to be in a position to full a work-related venture, journey with my son, deal with some artistic writing tasks and full wanted residence repairs. I additionally did a whole lot of nothing. Unstructured time was an sudden good thing about my sabbatical. Like many nonprofit leaders, I’ve extra work to do than time to do it in. I dwell by my (a number of) alarms, to-do lists and calendar. Having time to do nothing, time to learn, to nap and to let my thoughts wander was an actual reward. I returned to work with new concepts for applications and a dedication to reorganize my work to proceed to take care of a greater work-life stability. 

My private epiphanies mirrored the experiences of different nonprofit leaders. In a joint examine by Third Sector New England and CompassPoint Nonprofit Companies, 75% of leaders reported that the day without work enabled them to solidify an present imaginative and prescient for his or her group or create a brand new one. As well as, about 50% of these leaders had been in a position to implement their imaginative and prescient upon their return. 

How sabbaticals profit nonprofits

The size and necessities of a nonprofit’s sabbatical coverage affect the methods during which workers use their time away. Many sabbaticals are 12 weeks lengthy, whereas others are a extra modest 4. Some require that the time away profit the group; others embrace time away for its personal sake. 

Whereas there are clear private advantages to staff who take sabbaticals, organizations profit as properly. Elevated organizational capability is one demonstrable achieve. Analysis from each The Durfee Basis and The Third Sector discovered that 60-85% of the time, nonprofit workers reported leaders and administrators restructuring jobs and delegating duties. Moreover, The Third Sector discovered that “60% of awardees and 53% of interim leaders reported that the board of administrators grew to become more practical because of the planning and studying surrounding the sabbatical.”

Sabbaticals may also act as dry runs for management transitions. The hassle to plan for a sabbatical can make clear what roles are important for the manager director to guide and what duties could be delegated. Though many nonprofit boards fear that taking a sabbatical might lead to a pacesetter leaving the group, analysis reveals the other; one-third of nonprofit leaders stated their sabbatical helped them resolve to remain of their job longer than they’d deliberate, in keeping with analysis from Third Sector New England and CompassPoint Nonprofit Companies. 

What occurs if an worker doesn’t return

Management departures after a sabbatical can nonetheless profit the group and the sector. For Colin Stein, former government director of the BC Biking Coalition, the sabbatical created a glide path for him to depart the group. After main the BC Biking Coalition for 18 months, throughout which period the coalition expanded fundraising and created a brand new strategic plan, Stein recommended that he take a six-month unpaid sabbatical with a purpose to full a guide he was writing concerning the sector. 

Though he pledged to return, the coalition break up his job into two new positions to cowl his work throughout the sabbatical. On the finish of his sabbatical, Stein wasn’t able to return. “My work on the guide and coming again to different contracting alternatives could be higher for me, and the brand new hires meant that it labored out effective for the coalition,” he says. 

Stein’s sabbatical ended up spurring necessary adjustments, together with succession planning, growth of workers and organizational construction. “The sabbatical bought us to a spot that was a wholesome, growth-oriented place for me and for the group,” Stein says.

What to think about when initiating a sabbatical coverage

In case you are a nonprofit chief and contemplating a sabbatical coverage, listed here are some issues to think about:

  1. Will the coverage apply to all workers or simply to C-suite positions? The final consensus amongst nonprofit leaders is that the coverage ought to apply to all workers. 
  2. What duties should be lined whereas the worker is on sabbatical? Will you delegate to a workers member to be interim government director? If not, will you rent an interim government director? Both inner workers or exterior consultants must be compensated appropriately for these extra duties. 
  3. Are you able to safe exterior funding to assist the sabbatical? A handful of funders present cash explicitly to assist nonprofit leaders’ sabbaticals. Should you can apply and obtain funding and different assist for the sabbatical, nice. If not, do you could have sufficient normal assist funding to pay for the sabbatical and compensate inner or exterior assist? 
  4. Is the board of administrators ready to help and assist the interim government director?
  5. What assist is in place for the manager director’s reentry? The workers’s adjustment?

The Durfee Basis launched a DIY sabbatical information for nonprofits, which incorporates draft coverage language in addition to planning and ideas earlier than, throughout and after a sabbatical. 

Marceline White is an award-winning shopper advocate, author, and poet dwelling in Baltimore, Maryland. She has advocated, organized, researched, written on and received campaigns on truthful commerce, gender and commerce, financial rights and shopper safety during the last 20 years. Her analysis and coverage evaluation have appeared in Oxfam Improvement Journal, Overseas Coverage in Focus, USAID, and the United Nations Improvement Programme. She is a contributing creator to Buying and selling Girls’s Well being and Rights? Commerce Liberalization and Reproductive Well being in Growing Economies (2006) and World Points Girls and Justice (2004).


Essays, op-eds, and different writing have appeared in Girl’s Day, Baltimore Fishbowl, Baltimore Solar, and Mom Jones. 

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