If It’s Good for Business…


Guest blogger Joyce Milambiling is professor and coordinator of the TESOL/applied linguistics graduate program in the Department of Languages and Literatures at the University of Northern Iowa.

sabbatical_slideApplications for sabbaticals at my university are due next month. The process is competitive, the number of paid leaves for one or two semesters is limited, and they are called “professional development assignments” here. In my September–October Academe article, “Guilt, Trips, and Insights,” I reflect on my own sabbatical and cite a number of definitions that are used for this practice by different US institutions of higher learning. While preparing that article, I discovered a statement by Roger Eells, writing in the AAUP Bulletin over 50 years ago, in which he called sabbaticals in academia “an investment in the future of the institution granting it.”

Last week, I conducted an internet search and was surprised to find that sabbaticals of different types also exist in the business world. On the Huffington Post blog in May of this year, Matthew Shaw applauds the practice in “Why Sabbaticals Are Good for You, and I’m Not Just Stating the Obvious.” He was speaking from experience, having received leave from his job at the BBC to take advantage of a four-month journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan. What is striking is the persuasive tone he uses throughout the blog post. While Shaw is candid about fears that might be harbored by employees who are contemplating a sabbatical, he makes a strong case for taking the risk and appeals to, among other things, a person’s sense of adventure: “You see some of the world that’s beyond the end of your desk.”

In academia, in contrast, we scarcely need to convince our colleagues of the benefit of sabbaticals. In my circles, being allowed the kind of time that shelters one from other workplace demands is regarded as “an investment in the future” not only of the university but also in the well-being of the recipient herself. Of course, there can be some downsides to taking a sabbatical, but in my experience the advantages far outnumber any bumps in the road.

Finally, after delving a little more into sabbaticals outside the university, I came upon a 2015 article by Colleen Kane in Fortune magazine in which she identifies 21 companies that “will pay you to take time off.” These firms include Adobe Systems, Deloitte, and General Mills, and “time off” encompasses activities that do not have to be directly related to the person’s career or even be professional development in a strict sense. In the final analysis, however, one key objective for granting sabbaticals in the business world certainly also holds true in academia. This goal is, as Kane puts it, “to help the employee reset and come back rejuvenated and refreshed–as an enhanced worker (not to mention human being).”

Who can argue with that?

Articles from the current and past issues of Academe are available online. AAUP members receive a subscription to the magazine, available both by mail and as a downloadable PDF, as a benefit of membership.


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