Working Holidays vs. Sabbatical: What Is The Answer To Having It All?

2 November 2016

The dawn of the millennium brought with it changes like we’ve never seen before, from the financial  crash of 2008 and  Brexit , to the refashioned workplaces which have led many to disregard the typical work-life balance.

These unexpected curveballs mean we’ve all had to change: sacrificing luxuries that we were used to; adapting to a new form of entrepreneurialism  which champions start-ups  and the sharing economy ; and changing our work patterns to save in preparation for the 100-year life  that researchers have forecast for us. As employees can no longer be expected to follow the typical work and retirement plan of our parents, the millennial generation must be prepared for something new.

But these changes aren't all scary and stressful; they have also brought new positive influences. For example, the increase in start-up businesses, which have seized upon gaps in the market and risen to success, has created a new type of economy. Uber is a prime example - now the biggest global taxi company, without owning a car. Airbnb is another - one of the biggest in the hospitality business, despite not owning a single hotel.

Airbnb has allowed anyone to turn their house into a hotel

Getting a company off the ground involves working all kinds of hours, particularly when the  business  is global. With this huge rise in rocketing start-ups, employees have found themselves having to fit in with the demands of 5 different time zones as well as domestic issues, a social life and the needs of a developing business - all at once.

The millennial labour force are no longer able to compartmentalise their lives. The ability to work from home along with flexible working hours have blurred the line between home and work, and start-ups have taken this even further. The 'ping-pong table atmosphere', which offers free fruit drops, office brew and laundry services, are a double-edged sword. In exchange for the benefits, you can expect to put in the hard-graft with 9pm finishes.

So fine - if you’re dedicated to the cause, you’ll put in the hours. But what about taking a holiday? Where does this fit in when there is no break from work?

This is where working holidays come into play, and new businesses have sprung up to cater for this trend. For example, Flock and Coboat have formed to offer high-flying business people the chance to relax without ditching their laptops, providing cruise ships with super-powered wifi and desk spots on golden sands. They offer an entirely new experience: relaxation whilst cushioning the guilt of taking time off work.

Cruise ships can now be a co-working space

What is truly great about these companies is that they create a forum of knowledge-sharing. Through bringing together like-minded business people on similar schedules sharing the same accommodation, such individuals are given the chance to exchange ideas and offer business advice to one another on an informal level. Outside of the official constraints of the boardroom, people begin to network properly and business relationships are built on a stronger foundation.

Although there are perks, do these types of holidays stop people from truly switching off? Without taking a break from the business, employees aren’t given the chance to recharge. This could actually hinder the business as employees could end up losing sight of their goals or become sloppy in their work processes.

With these thoughts in mind, we spoke to Karen Blackett , Chairwoman at MediaCom, who took a three-month sabbatical, travelling around California and Hawaii with her six-year-old son, Isaac, learning to surf and exploring volcanoes.

During these three months, Karen switched off from her business and was able to reassess both her business and personal directions. She reports that her travels “allowed me to reflect on the year that has passed and think about what I want for myself and my family moving forward.”

New skills: Karen learnt to surf on her sabbatical

While working holidays do create a great forum, they can also damage well-being in the workplace and stop employees from taking the break they need. They merely steady the stress of work and do not eradicate it.

Karen said “I have always championed well-being at work and, in September 2015, I launched 'Project Blend', an initiative encouraging employees to view their personal goals (such as exercising daily, or leaving in time for the school pick-up) as key performance indicators alongside their work targets, all to be evaluated with their line manager. I get a much happier, more loyal employee if they feel I understand their life as well as their work. I also became president of NABS earlier this year, the advertising industry charity which focuses on  health and wellbeing  in the workplace.

I was very aware that coming back to work was going to be a shock. I’m working very hard to ensure I am getting home in time to spend time with my son and also sticking to my commitment of doing to the school drop off on a Thursday and Friday mornings and always collecting him from school on a Friday. That said, my time working out of office hours has slipped back into the old routine. With my workload I’m not sure if that will change, but I’m OK with that at this stage.”

Karen wants her employees to not miss out on the little important moments of life, like the school run

This break has allowed Karen to re-evaluate what is important in her life and what to make time for. With so much emphasis placed on work, home life can get lost under the battle of stress and the superhuman mission of trying to juggle too many balls.  As we are expected to live longer, we need to rebalance and look deeper for the answer of how to have it all. Perhaps a working holiday is great for a quick fix in the busy period of getting started, but in the long-term, when things steady out, a sabbatical could be the answer.

Karen went on to state, “I have come back to work feeling energised, fired up and ready to go. I am having to ensure I manage my stress levels and do all I can to keep them in check. Stress affects a great deal of people in the industry; for example, in comparison to last year, NABS has seen a 44% increase in the number of individuals using their Advice Line and a 54% increase in the number of individuals needing emotional support.

I don’t have any regrets about my sabbatical – in fact, it’s the 2nd best thing I have done in my life after having Isaac. After being  CEO  for 5 years, and being entrenched in the business for over 20 years, the prospect of stepping away from work was always going to be exciting, but also daunting. However, I've got to be seen to walk the walk. And in order to be an effective leader, you've got to look after yourself: you've got to be mentally fit as well as physically fit. I do want to be a great businesswoman as well as a great mum – but I don't want to lean in so much that I fall over.”

Maintaining well-being in the workplace means seemingly impossible tasks are possible

Perhaps if sabbaticals were to become an institutionalised rule,  the result will be a less stressed workforce and one that feels rewarded by their management, rather than overworked. Working holidays seem like a great short-term option for top-level management who feel the business will struggle if they step away for great lengths of time, but it is important to consider the struggle of the self too. Although it may not be instantaneous, the mind and body will suffer if proper breaks aren’t taken. As a CEO of a successful company, Karen proves that we can adapt to modern working methods and have it all.

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