Sabatic-ations and Socially Conscious Corporate Career Choices

Taking a sabbatical used to be largely restricted to academics and posh people who had the time and money to take time off in the middle of their career, while the rest of the world had to hold out for 45+ years of work until their retirement allowed them the chance to explore their non-work related passions. But not any more. If you look around, the sabbatical era is creeping towards us.

My job lets me have conversations with all sorts of interesting people, from banking executives to futurists, and recently my conversations with those two groups combined into a made-up word I'd love to introduce you to: sabatic-ation. I can see the eyes rolling, but even if the awkward term never catches on, I think the concept of the sabbatical/vacation is certainly coming to an employer near you, so read up.

Many businesses, like banks, are fighting to attract the best and the brightest talent, and they can no longer offer increasingly larger and larger pots of money to win that competition: not only have the funds shrunk, but the demands have changed - people want to do good in the world, and if corporations are going to keep up, they are going to have to shift with the times.

As one undergraduate recently told me "Social entrepreneurship is really competitive! All the Type A's are fighting with each other over their social impact careers." Indeed, the times have changed. Banks and other corporates are facing a shift in their popularity: the most ambitious MBAs who used to fight over investment banking careers are slowly dissipating with more and more students demanding jobs with a "social purpose." As those of us who have teared up watching "It's a Wonderful Life" know, banks certainly can serve a social purpose, but with recent scandals and crashes, many people view finance as the antithesis of a social impact career. The balance of power has shifted, and many businesses see this in their decreasing ability to recruit top talent along with the increasing number of employees quitting to pursue their impact passions. All of the corporate executives I've spoken to recently can easily connect with this dilemma: some of their best people are choosing to leave to pursue social impact roles and, as one man told me a few days ago "It seems to be contagious - it's spreading through my company!"

Many businesses are worried that increasing numbers of employees are quitting to get away, pursue meaning, or even travel and see the world and are not willing to wait until retirement to do so. But what if more businesses started using this desire to their advantage? Why hasn't the sabbatical, popularized in academic employment, caught up with the rest of the career paths?

What if you were recruited into a job and told from day one that, if you stay for 2.5 years, you can have 6 months off, fully or partially paid, and that you can use that time to go pursue your impact goals, learn something new, or just travel and relax? Increasingly, more companies are starting to offer this, and at companies that aren't, people are taking sabatications themselves - quitting to travel and then returning to their same or new jobs.

What if companies planned for this - giving people the option to work towards a sabbatical and giving the business time to plan for their break? And, to attract the students who would now prefer social impact roles, what if those corporate organizations offered the socially conscious student an option they couldn't refuse: come join us for ±2 years, learn about how finance and corporate structures work, on top of that we'll provide a global social change leadership programme, and then we'll send you off with a large enough percentage of your salary that you can go work on the social impact projects you care about, with your loans paid off, and important skills from which you can add value?

You might be questioning why I'm concerned about this, since my work focuses on social progress, but consider the alternative: if all of our brightest students who care about social impact are avoiding working in banks (and all sorts of other corporations), what sort of future will those sectors have? I don't know about you, but I'd certainly prefer banks to have socially conscious employees. I also believe that change in these sectors will only happen from the inside, so we need to get some smart, socially conscious people into banks, not running away from "the enemy." Additionally, we don't want every graduate running off to start a social enterprise - and many of them could use a few years of training about how businesses work before deciding if or how to start and support their own. If you want to go work in or start a social enterprise, raise funds for a charity, or become a government or social sector leader, you will certainly need to know how finance and business works.

What if you could take a corporate job but at the same time guarantee that you would have time to commit yourself fully to social impact work you believed in in the short-term future? If it's not built in, employees are already starting to quit to take their own pre-retirement sabatications anyway - so businesses are eventually going to start planning for it, and if we're lucky, corporates will get socially conscious change agents working for them from the inside out along the way.