People Management: Staff time out to employers' benefit

Indira Das-Gupta

Sabbaticals often produce a happier and more skilled workforce.

Charities may still be lagging behind the private sector in terms of salaries, but a growing number compensate for this by offering benefits such as sabbaticals.

Liz Grimes, a partner at the Kage Partnership, a charity recruitment agency, says: "The benefits package offered by a potential employer, whether that is in the voluntary or private sector, is coming under closer scrutiny than ever. People are more knowledgeable about what's available and will shop around. For many, time is more important than money - a number of charities recognise this by offering sabbaticals."

The RSPB allows employees to take sabbaticals of up to four weeks for every seven years of service, provided it involves conservation work.

A special panel has to approve the request, but the trip is part-funded and employees continue to receive their salaries.

Stephen Hare, who is a land agent for the charity, and involved in acquiring land for its nature reserves, was able to go on a four-week sabbatical to Canada. "I have a relative in Canada who is in the same field as me, which gave me the idea," he says. "It was really useful for my job because I built up a lot of contacts from NGOs out there, and learnt how they do things. I spent most of the time working, but I did have four or five days off and got to see a lot more of a country I love."

Sabbaticals have obvious benefits for the employer as well as the employee. Yvonne Bagnall, international training and development co-ordinator at the RSPB, says: "Giving staff the opportunity to get involved in conservation projects overseas or in the UK increases their knowledge and skills development, and broadens their horizons so they are able to contribute more on their return."

Some charities are even more flexible. Lisa Russell, an events fundraiser for VSO, was able to take three months off to go travelling. She explains: "My partner and I decided we wanted to take some time out to go travelling.

We couldn't really afford to go for longer and I didn't want to leave my job. So I asked for a sabbatical, and was thankfully given the go-ahead.

"It was amazingly simple, and that they allowed me to do it made me feel really valued. When I came back, I had a completely new lease of life. It's a great bonus that the opportunity is available, and makes me feel lucky to work here."

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