The Value of a Sabbatical and the Therapy of Work
In a previous article I raised the issue of what I call "Executive Loneliness", and from the feedback I continue to receive, that piece obviously struck a chord with many executives, managers and business owners. This time I would like to take a look at something I believe all executives contemplate at some time or other in their careers, the sabbatical. In the late 70's and early 80's the world was full of talk about people retiring at 45 or 50 years of age, and prior to retirement having significantly greater leisure time, due to the rapid advance of new technology and modern management practises all designed (in theory at least) to make life easier. WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!
The reality of the world is that today, many people are now working between five and a half and six days a week. Not only are the hours of work longer but the pressures and stresses on Executives and Managers in particular have never been greater. It would be true to say that the emphasis and the demands on performance at every level within every organisation continue to increase rapidly. New Zealand's 360 degree turn commencing in the mid-late 80"s from being a highly regulated, controlled and government dominated country to its current de-regulated state (which in real terms was achieved in a relatively a very short period of time) not only staggered the world, it also stunned many New Zealanders. The strong growth experienced in the economy over the past eight to ten years in particular (after many years of paying the price for those economic reforms in the form of a number of recessions) clearly demonstrates that the economic reforms of the 80's & 90's are now paying off. Whilst I have some real concerns that business and economic progress has slipped somewhat over the past 18 months or so, the current projections for continued growth and development over the next five years at least, are mostly positive. Having said that, growth as we all well know brings its own sets of pressures with it.
Amongst all of this however, obtaining the balance between personal/family life and work continues to be a very real juggling act for Executives and Managers.
The value of a sabbatical leave for Executives and Senior Managers in particular is something which I believe now needs to be considered as important element of Executive Contracts. The "long service leave" provisions prevalent in Executive and Management contracts of yesteryear, whilst admirable, are simply not adequate in today's business environment. When you think of it, our colleagues in the educational institutes have long considered it mandatory to include a sabbatical with a view to updating knowledge & skills, continue research and to freshen up in a neutral environment on a regular basis (usually, but not always at five yearly intervals). I believe the same situation is necessary for Executives. Given the unprecedented emphasis on performance and the increasing measurement of every aspect of corporate life at more frequent intervals, getting quality "time to think" is one of the very real challenges for today's executive.
I firmly believe that we all need to take "step breaks" in business; we cannot continue to put pressure on people to perform at peak/optimum levels without a break. Both individuals and business's need time to grow and think.
Having said that, there is no doubt in my mind either, that many of this country's social problems will continue to develop unless we genuinely get more people "working productively" in the workforce.(Not just "working" in it). Importantly "The Therapy of Work" cannot be overlooked or underestimated - people need to be involved in a real work situation where their contribution and input is recognised, their work and worth valued and where they are well rewarded for their effort. Throwing money at schemes for the unemployed or unskilled in the form of temporary work measures for example, is in my opinion simply throwing good money after bad. People need to be trained, retrained and trained how to train in areas where jobs actually exist and where skill shortages are greatest or are developing. The reality is that we will most likely never have large numbers of unemployed people (as was the case in the 80's & 90's) again!
From here on in, I firmly believe that it is up to New Zealanders as individuals, regardless of skills, experience, training or career background to make it happen for themselves. This means taking personal accountability and responsibility for their careers and being proactive in creating their own future - given the raft of opportunities available in the current job market place, the time to start has never been better.
The therapy of meaningful work cannot and must not be underestimated or undervalued.
Surprisingly to many, one of the most significant and largely unpredicted shortages of labour in New Zealand currently is in the unskilled and semi skilled areas.......this will continue to be the case, and, I believe it will become even further exacerbated as a combination of the workforce demographics kicks in and the Australia V's New Zealand pay gap continues to widen.
Barry T Knight.