Improve Employee Retention with Flexible Work Schedules and Sabbaticals

by: Nichole Gunn August 23, 2011

With the economy slowly making a comeback, employees are still feeling the affects of layoff scares, along with greater workloads and responsibilities, while at the same time often facing reduced benefits. These employees are physically and emotionally stressed and feel they have not been recognized for their efforts. This type of workplace environment is a breeding ground for dissatisfaction and decreased employee retention rates. If provided the opportunity, employees will jump ship.

While employers may not be seeing the overall business improvements they’d like and may not want to incur any additional expenses, they do realize they need to take steps to combat the ill-effects of the recession. Demonstrating that this employer attitude is global, a 2011 report from the Incentive Research Foundation shows that overseas Google searches for the keyword “employee engagement” were at all time highs in January 2011.

One strategy to help improve engagement is initiating employee rewards and recognition programs. The costs associated with these programs could in the long-run provide savings for companies.

Aon Hewitt, a benefits service provider consultant, advises that employee turnover can be very costly. It has been estimated that the cost, including recruiting and new hire training, can be from 50 to 300 percent of a worker’s yearly salary. Based on this, it’s wiser for employers to invest in strategies that will promote increased employee retention rates.

Two popular and effective incentives employers can take advantage of are: offering employees sabbaticals and flexible work hours. These strategies are shown to enhance employee job satisfaction.

An example of this strategy in practice is that of Sonoma Partners, a software consulting company based in Chicago. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that the company provides a program titled SWEET, a flexible work week initiative.

One Sonoma employee, Brendon Landers, told the news source that he has three children, 12 years and younger. He often works two days a week from home, which helps him manage his family’s needs, while still fulfilling his workload. Giving an example of one particular day, he told the Sun-Times, “I worked from downtown in the morning and I left about 11:30, drove my daughter to camp and then worked at home in the afternoon. I didn't have to ask permission or feel guilty or any of those things."

Another company, Morningstar, an investment research firm, told the news source that it offers its employees six-week paid sabbaticals.

Melissa Chlopecki, the firm’s product manager, told the paper, "Sometimes you need more than the typical week or two of vacation time. (On sabbatical) you can let go of what happened at work before you left. Then you can go back to work and … get back into that rhythm."

BusinessWeek reported that according to research conducted by the Journal of Education for Business, “employees returned from sabbaticals committed and more energized.”


About Nichole Gunn