More firms here open to sabbaticals

PHOTO: More firms here open to sabbaticals

SINGAPORE - Have you ever felt that you love your job, but the long working hours and many responsibilities are slowly killing your passion?

Well, instead of letting yourself burn out and then calling it quits permanently, why not go on sabbatical leave?

That's what a growing number of individuals in the workforce here are doing.

Ms Melanie Tan, 38, who is vice-president of human resources at OCBC Bank, is a case in point.

She had been feeling rather drained after working for more than 15 years, with almost no break between jobs.

So in 2010, after four years at the bank, she asked for time off to re-energise herself and to pursue one of her biggest dreams - a round-the-world trip.

For two months, she visited destinations such as Machu Picchu in Peru, Prague in the Czech Republic, and Argentina.

"Perhaps I was hit by a mid-life crisis, but I think anyone who has been in the workforce for about a decade or more should go on a sabbatical," said Ms Tan, adding that doing so was one of the best decisions she made for her career.

"The trip allowed me to gain a lot more perspective. I came back with a glow on my face, much more energised, and a more patient person with fewer complaints."

While the concept of a sabbatical is more common in the United States and Europe, human-resource experts note that more firms in Singapore are now including such leave as one of their employment benefits.

Specifically, more companies are rolling out a dedicated sabbatical scheme for their staff, instead of simply lumping it as part of general no-pay leave.

OCBC, for example, made such a move in October.

Employees who have worked at the bank for at least five years can now take three consecutive months of unpaid sabbatical leave, while still enjoying coverage under the company's insurance plans for medical treatment and hospitalisation.

Under the previous no-pay-leave scheme, they would have had to pay their own medical bills. Ms Jacinta Low, head of human resources planning at OCBC, said: "Each employee can take such a career break twice during their term of employment with the bank, and it can be for any reason - to spend more time with their family, see the world, do volunteer work or take a course."

Another firm set to launch a dedicated sabbatical scheme is information-technology services company Invensys Operations Management, which hopes "to better attract and retain different generations of employees with different life perspectives".

Mr Josh Goh, assistant director of corporate services at human-resource consultancy The GMP Group, said that companies here are recognising that employees are no longer as willing to "sell their souls" to the organisation.

But employees should not take too long a sabbatical, he added, with one year being the maximum.

This is to ensure that they do not lose touch with the industry or company's management, given the fast-paced business environment in Singapore.

"Before you request such leave, you need to be clear about what you want to do during this career break, and how you can minimise any operational inconveniences for your supervisor," he said.

Employees should also be flexible and be willing to negotiate on the amount of time off they take, especially if their firm does not have a dedicated sabbatical policy, he added.

They must also affirm their intention to contribute to the firm for many more years to come.

"Show your supervisors your business case for taking a sabbatical; that you're serious about returning and will not go back on your word and quit at the end of it," Mr Goh said.