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Thoughts on Sabbaticals

In the land of few vacation days yet globalized corporate empires, an equalizer to vacation time across geo-political regions is the sabbatical. Intel only offers it to employees of USA and Canada, if I remember correctly, but in essence it is “make up” time when the standard employee time off is compared. I know of several people in other countries working for Intel who have asked for its equivalent, yet they seem reluctant to give up about a week of holiday/vacation days per year in order to get the benefit of eight weeks off every seven years. Unlike normal vacation days, you cannot break up the sabbatical in fragments: it is an all-or-nothing block of time you either take within a three-year window from eligibility, or give up all rights to claim.

Which is the better deal? I lack first-hand experience with extensive living in another geographic area while working – except for three months in Switzerland and a year in Thailand, but even then I was actually still working according to the USA calendar. Therefore I can only speculate as to the answer. I suspect the real answer is neither: a forced two month period that you have to carefully plan for around kids and spouses, vs. regular holidays but an inability to pack them together for extended vacation or mental re-charge time.

Perhaps the “ideal” situation would be somewhat different: the base three weeks of time off per year, with one week of “accumulating” days you can spend however you like to roll forward to future years. Every seven years, a bonus week is added, and the tally is reset to zero at the start of year eight. Now, if you’d like to take an extra week or two due to a special event (reunion, anniversary, kids graduating, . .) you could just take that time. Or split your “sabbatical” equivalence up over other windows and other places. People that want that traditional sabbatical can have it; those that want a more flexible and distributed system can have that as well.

For people working in other geo-political situations, I don’t know what the right answer is or might look like. Some places, such as Europe, have extremely generous legal requirements and protections from workers, including up to six months of unemployment benefits, extensive national days off, etc. The financial burden those perks represent is high enough that finding a way to add a sabbatical on top of that – without forcing a company to adopt even more generous sabbatical terms for US based employees – might simply be untenable.

Regardless of the finance issues to the corporation, I am thankful for the opportunity provided by Intel to take a couple of months of “down time” after the past few years. For the past three years, work stress has been up due to internal politics and non-engineering based decision making at multiple levels. Combined with our personal lives and health, taking this time with the kids to just be together and do silly things or big things . . . the sabbatical as it exists is quite ideal. I’m not sure our plans for how to spend this time are sane, but one way or another, we’ll be able to look back on it all and have stories to tell – eventually.

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