Sabbatical year: A year during which land remained fallow, observed every seven years by the ancient Jews. A leave of absence, often with pay, usually granted every seventh year, as to a college professor, for travel, research, or rest.
(The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.)
More and more people in mid-career are taking time of from work to do something completely different. Most of them travel for a significant time, others work for volunteer organizations or teach in remote places, there are even people who stay at home and try a new career. The one constant is that they leave their current job for a considerable amount of time after which they should be able to take their old job back. Most western-European countries even have incentive programs to promote people to take a sabbatical and, according to most sources, it is believed to be beneficial for the employee as well as the employer. A lot of study has been conducted on the topic of sabbaticals but not on the effect it has on a persons career development path or on the success factors for a company to be able to benefit from employees sabbaticals.
1.2 Aim of the dissertation
The aim of this dissertation is dual: to understand what the effect is of a sabbatical on a persons career development path and secondly to understand what companies should do to benefit from it. Popular belief states that a sabbatical is always beneficial for both parties. Nevertheless, from personal experience as well as through literature review, the impression persists that this might not always be the case. People who have found their calling during their time-off will probably not go back to the job from which they escaped. People, who cut the routine, might not want to go back to the same. On the other hand, there will probably be employees who will benefit from it and who will be able to show real added value to the company after their foreign experience. The aim is to quantify what happens when people leave for more than six months to do something completely different and have to come back to their same job. Concurrently this dissertation will try to analyse the critical success factors that need to be put in place by companies to benefit the most from re-entering sabbatical-takers.
1.3 Theoretical orientation
People take sabbaticals on various times in their life. According to the Lonely Planets The Gap Year Book, around 50.000 students are taking a gap year and this number is suspected to rise to 90.000 in the next 5 years. This study is not aimed at those students. The scope of this study is limited to people in their mid-career who decide to take a break. This also eliminated those people who are sent out on an expat-assignment, since this area is already studied widely. Inkson et al. describes those people as people taking a self-initiated foreign work experience (SFE). Contrary to this description, this study will focus on mid-career professionals who take a break of minimum 6 months and decide to travel, rest, work somewhere else or study. This means that people who will be studied must have following characteristics:
- Mid-career or at least 5 years of professional experience.
- Have decided to take a break or sabbatical on their own initiative.
- The period of the sabbatical may not be shorter than 6 months and must be full-time.
- Are sure that they will be hired again at their initial company.
1.3.2 Theoretical approach
According to professor Larry Lev: International sabbaticals offer an ideal opportunity to unfreeze and change. Your home institution reaps the benefits of a revitalized individual who returns with new ideas and new ways of doing things. (Lev, 2001)
According to Dr. Kerr Inkson and Dr. Barbara Myers: Many questions remain unanswered. For example, although the career development of participants in OE appears significant, we are unable to judge how it is different from, or whether it is greater than, the development of equivalent individuals who stay home.(Inkson, 2003)
The majority believes that any form of sabbatical is beneficial for the employer as for the employee. Inksons and Myers study didnt find relevant proof of this. This study wants to start where Inkson and Myers stopped. What happens to the career path of individuals who did make the big OE (Overseas Experience)? How is a professionals career development affected by a 1 year sabbatical working for a not-for-profit organization in Africa? How can one stay motivated in a routine job after having spent the last year trekking the seven seas?
Many questions where this studys approach is that it is not certain that it is beneficial for everybody or every company. The aim is to find relevant data to identify the parameters that define successful career development after a sabbatical.