Anyone who has been with the Dallas-based marketing and promotions agency for at least seven years is being rewarded with seven days off and $2,500. Those who have made it to year 15 or beyond get a 15-day bonus and $5,000 to do something they’ve longed to do but didn’t have the time or money for.
Fifty staffers qualify for this bonus package this year; 25 qualify next year. Clark wanted to give his full-time employees – 225 in Dallas and another 225 around the world – a chance to expand their horizons. But, really, Clark wants this time away from work to do much more.
Clark considers the cost an investment in innovative thinking – something the agency vitally needs to maintain its 100 clients, including AT&T Inc., Frito-Lay Inc., American Airlines Inc. and GameStop Corp. Sabbaticals also increase loyalty and help recruit talent, he says.
Why can’t I jump for joy? Here are two reasons:
- I doubt whether the program will truly achieve its stated goal, because it does not offer the amount of time necessary to recharge, disconnect and “be more innovative.” While the seven day program can be extended to 11-21 days with weekends and vacation, it’s still not enough time for a meaningful sabbatical. At a minimum, four to six weeks would allow the appropriate time to potentially achieve the goal.
- The program lacks some foresight. If “creativity” is a stated goal, shouldn’t talented employees earn this right before seven years of employment? Why not five years? Isn’t the goal worthy of this commitment?
The very best sabbatical programs are tightly designed and executed. When a program is more of a “perk” but still has a stated goal – especially one like “innovation” – things get messy.
With Stefan Sagmeister’s year-long sabbatical every seven years touted in TED talks as making a tremendous difference in his creative thinking as well as adding to his bottom line, plus the “innovation sabbatical” offered at General Mills which is 12-months long, it’s difficult to imagine becoming all that innovative in the short amount of time offered in Clark’s program.
For instance, Stu Hill, senior conceptor (that’s someone who creates marketing concepts), wants to travel to India for a meditation retreat. Considering travel time, jet lag, the traditional two days of intestinal adjustment and the time it takes to acquire a true rhythm of life without work (in our experience that’s 4-5 days), Stu will have about two days to assume his cross-legged position and meditate. Not much creativity bonus time there.
Note that Mr. Clark got this idea after taking a month-long sabbatical for himself. So why now a seven-day format?
The Marketing Arm’s program does these things well:
- The policy for taking the time is clear. Days off have to be taken in one chunk and after qualifying the person has two years to take the sabbatical.
- Staffers are asked to be thoughtful about their chosen activity rather than just sending them away and hoping for the best. They must do something that will better their lives or the life of someone else, invest in new learning or renew passion.
- The program has an evaluative element: A four-person review committee of their peers will give the proposals thumbs up or down or ask for modification.
Good structure, indeed. I hope someone thought through the impact of having ALL 50 staffers (out of 500 in the company worldwide) taking their extended time during the next two years.
Is The Marketing Arm’s program a sweet new benefit that allows the company to include offering a “sabbatical program” as part of its brand? Will the program truly achieve the goal of increasing “innovative” thinking for clients?
If innovation is “vital” to this company, why not consider a program design with a longer sabbatical time and a limit on the number given each year?
So why am I taking this program to task? Because companies considering a sabbatical program have an opportunity to benefit their organization in a myriad of ways when they implement a sound sabbatical program. But they must prevent themselves from slapping together a program with a few good ideas and a couple of bells and whistles.
With the investment in time upfront to clarify goals and strategically align elements within the company, a top-rated sabbatical program can and will serve talented employees and new recruits across generational issues.
While Mr. Clark might like to think he has a top-notch sabbatical program for his company, he does not. Had he’d let it percolate a bit more and planned better, he could have had one of the best.