Total Rewards (Comp & Benefits)

This company is trying to address employee burnout with a sabbatical program

Schneider Electric launched its “recharge break” program in 2021.
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· 4 min read

Corporate America could learn a lesson from colleges and churches when it comes to addressing burnout and retention issues. Sabbaticals might not just be for pastors and professors anymore.

Even before the Great Resignation and dramatic pandemic-fueled changes to how we live and work, HR pros at Schneider Electric recognized the need to tackle burnout.

“We were having a lot of employees expressing that they were facing burnout…regardless of generation; people in different stages of their life,” said Shalin Kothari, VP of people and DE&I strategy.

So Kothari and his team got to work on a program that would encourage employees to take longer breaks to get away from the grind and recharge, which he said would ultimately provide an indirect benefit to the company. These breaks were different from a weeklong summer vacation to Florida. This program is akin to a sabbatical, more common among university professors than account managers.

The company launched its “recharge break” in summer 2021, allowing employees to elect a payroll deduction equivalent to one or two weeks each year that they’ll be able to take in the future as their “recharge break" sabbatical. The company has a partial match program as well.

“It’s partially company-funded, and it’s partially employee-funded,” Kothari said. “To demonstrate that [if] this is something that is important to you, then the company will also match because it’s important to the company as well.”

Sabbatical programs in the workplace are still rare. In 2019, only 11% of member organizations surveyed by the Society for Human Resources organizations offered these programs, and only 5% came with paid time off.

Schneider Electric allows all employees to elect their contributions during each annual enrollment period. It’s not just for senior employees like those tenured professors, although employees receive additional employer-side contribution benefits if they’ve worked with the company for longer than five years.

Christine Goodwin said there was no “roadmap to follow” for developing the program. Goodwin worked as the director of reward solutions for the US and Canada for Schneider Electric until last July when she moved positions in the company. She said there were many “interesting roadblocks” the team needed to overcome when developing the program.

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“We weren’t in a financial position to be able to…fund an entire paid sabbatical period for months and months on end as a traditional one,” Goodwin said. “We also didn’t want to have our employees having to wait 10, 15, 20 years.”

What the team developed was a hybrid program, where employees are eligible to contribute time off over the course of years through a payroll deduction as a sort of a “layaway” that the company partially matches depending on employee tenure.

Creating and implementing the program wasn’t not a challenge for the company’s legal, finance, and HR services departments, Goodwin said.

They wrestled with big questions: Was the deduction pretax? (It is.) How did HR log and tally the hours squirreled away? (By developing a complex new system to track the contributions.) Would the payout be at the rate of pay when the employee contributed or when the employee used the benefit? (The latter.)

And Schneider Electric’s first recharge breaks won’t be taken until 2025, so the team is still “writing a playbook” for how employees can use their sabbatical time and how managers will plan for an extended employee leave.

“People will have different ideas of what they want to do or like how long they want to go or how much time they’ll want,” Goodwin said. “So it will be like a variety of scenarios that could play out, but we also have built into the policies that the managers ultimately…still have approval.”

The HR team sees the benefit as an extension of the company’s culture that values flexibility as a mutual benefit to the organization and employees, and is aligned with other benefits like its voluntary part-time or PTO-purchase programs.

“Being a European company, we see how a lot of our European colleagues take a month off July, August, come back energized,” Kothari said to explain how he got leadership buy-in for the idea. “We think it’s really important. No different than you need your eight hours of sleep, and you wake up and you feel really energized and you’re actually more productive, and so we think this will actually add more productivity to the workforce.”

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.