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I’m a consultant, get me out of here!

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…Not to the Australian jungle though.

Instead, I went to India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Vietnam on a sabbatical. And despite eating some very questionable street food along the way, nobody forced me to eat fish eyes as part of a Bushtucker Trial – nor jump out of a helicopter to get to my overnight halt, for that matter.

But reflecting now, despite my trip seeming comparatively dull, it had serious benefits for both me and my employer.

In late 2017, I felt I needed a break. I was increasingly tired, stressed and feeling like something was missing, if truth be told. The fact that I’ve suffered with both anxiety and depression in the past only exacerbated these feelings. After some Googling, I decided it was likely I was going through what thousands of my fellow millennials have also experienced – what’s increasingly known as ‘millennial burnout.’  I had long mooted the idea of travelling, and it was getting to the point of ‘if I don’t go now, I probably never will.’

I needed a break but had never wanted to leave my job at Buck. I enjoyed my work and I work with some great people, both colleagues and clients alike. To be able to go away and then return seemed perfect.

As you’ve probably already guessed, Buck does have a sabbatical policy, as do a number of employers these days. (Around one in five, based upon research conducted by Opodo.)  However, it’s a policy that seems hidden in the background of many contracts. You often get the impression that it exists because employers feel they must offer it, rather than because they want to provide their employees with a better work-life balance and increased flexibility; this needs to change.

Having considered the needs of the business and drafted my proposal for my period of leave (at the risk of becoming a rather large inconvenience for my line manager), I put forward my request and was delighted to find out that it had been approved.

Four months later I was relaxing at a hostel in Kathmandu, wondering, just like many others before me, why people feel the need to start playing a guitar, loudly, right next to you while you’re holding a conversation. Like Neil in the second Inbetweeners movie, I would have left immediately if someone had starting playing the bongos.

It’s not just the employee who benefits

The benefits of this trip for me, as the employee, go without saying.

I got to travel for three months, meet some great people and visit some places I’ll never forget, without a nagging sense that I’d need to find work upon my return. What could be better than that?

It had a profound effect on my general wellbeing too. I came back a more relaxed individual who was comfortable with his lot, rather than feeling down because everyone else seemed to be getting ahead. It was a huge confidence boost that my employer considered me an asset and wanted me to return. Work-wise I felt refreshed and focused, keen to build on the two years I had been with the business and push on to develop further. I  hope to continue working for Buck for years to come, as our business goes from strength to strength.

As for Buck? Well I’d hope that they’d agree with my above self-assessment. By keeping me they avoided the need to go through a costly recruitment process, internal training and client introductions, which could have taken about as long as my sabbatical was. My colleagues who covered my work in my absence (and to whom I am still very grateful) were given a chance to further their own skills and experience, becoming involved in projects and tasks that perhaps they wouldn’t have otherwise. One such colleague continues to work on one of my team’s largest client accounts, after forming an excellent relationship with them during that time.

Clients, too, retained a level of continuity that they wouldn’t have had if I’d needed to resign in order to travel. The good relationships I’d worked hard to build before I went remained, and I was able to pick up where I left off. On their side there was no worry about service levels, nor was there a concern at the Buck end that the clients may look elsewhere.

Create a workplace your employees will want to return to

Employers need to embrace their sabbatical policies, not shy away from them. David Brent once said that the most important thing to a company isn’t the building or the turnover – it’s the people. And despite his many faux pas and awful dancing, here he is right.

The clichéd attitude of ‘they’re just lazy and want a long holiday’ needs to be dropped when discussing and considering sabbaticals, so that they can be viewed as a valuable tool for employee wellbeing and retention. Unfortunately, 21% of employees still feel that taking a longer break could make them less employable in the future because of this very cliché.

I chose to travel; other employees may have different dreams they want to fulfil in their time off. They may want to pursue further education or participate in voluntary or community work.  Or they may want to spend time with their nearest and dearest. Whatever the reason, sabbaticals provide a tangible solution that works for both parties.

Would I take another one? Absolutely, if the chance presented itself.

Would I continually talk about it with friends and colleagues for months afterwards? Probably not. Suffice to say the genuine interest in travel stories I had soon after my return has waned, and now if I say the words “Yeah that reminds me of when I was in Vietnam…,” I am just greeted with eye-rolls and sighs.

Still, if that’s the only downside…

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