How would you like to be paid to revitalize yourself, by getting away from your regular work for several months with no questions asked? Some Washington workers are making good use of this benefit from employers who believe that slowing the work pace makes a happier - and more productive - workplace.
Several well-known Washington law firms have organized programs allowing partners to take three to six month sabbaticals at full or half pay. "We perceived that people are happier and better off with a change of pace to refresh themselves. You can't do the same thing forever without being stale," says Steve Weiswasser, a partner at Wilmer, Cutler and Pickering, the first firm to do this in D.C.
Three years ago, McDonald's began its program to allow full-time employes with 10 years of service to take off two months at full pay - plus any vacation time - for themselves.
Tom Farace, a training supervisor at Hamburger College, Silver Spring, did just that last summer. "My sabbatical gave me an opportunity for close family association - being with my kids, pitching in at home (we cannot beets, tomatoes, peaches and corn) and being with my wife. We changed our life style and pace," he reminisces.
At Time-Life Books in Alexandria and the company's magazine subsidiaries in New York, employes after 15 years can take a six-month sabbatical (in two chunks of three months, if they prefer) at half-pay. Or they can wait until they've worked 20 years and leave for three months at 75 percent pay.
Says Dolores Littles, an assignment photographer at Time-Life Books who spent three months in Mexico potting and weaving, "I've been at my job for 25 years, and I couldn't have stayed if I didn't know a sabbatical was available."
Although Littles went far from homes for her leave, Clara Nicolai, a picture editor, spent for sabbatical renovating her five-room apartment in New York. "The three months was such a complete change that I didn't need to go away," says Nicolai. "I also read a lot, caught up on my correspondence and joined a tenants' association to force any landlord to do something about the building."
Giving a benefit such as an unrestricted sabbatical costs money. Not every company can do it. While law firms may be able to reassign work among their attorneys, and large corporations can find someone to fill in for the missing worker, most retail businesses are unwilling to offer such a costly benefit.
"To my knowledge, I've never heard of a sabbatical offered by a retail firm in the U.S.," says Leonard Kolodny, manager of the retail bureau of the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade.
For workaholic Washingtonians, more time and less money may be a difficult adjustment.
Teacher Sandra Fitzpatrick, wife of lawyer Jim Fitzpatrick of Arnold and Porter, spent (with her husband) "our six-month, half-pay sabbatical" in England.Although she enjoyed the experience, she says it's not for everyone.
"I think those who go away from their work for six months in mid-life may find it threatening. The problem is what you do with your business, with 'climbing the ladder,' with money, with making changes. There are also men who don't want to spend so much time with their wives. This is a close, intimate experience."
A project into which energies can be channeled helps cushion the shock of leaving a high-pressure workplace College and university sabbaticals, usually given after six years of continuous teaching experience, require work on a "scholarly proposal."
"We don't monitor what a person does on sabbatical," admits Tom DiBacco, dean for faculty affairs at American University. "It doesn't have to result in a paper. But it should benefit the individual and the university."
Allan Lichtman, a professor of history at the university, typifies the scholarly approach to a sabbatical. While he plans to read and run marathons during his year and a half off (he has a one-year fellowship at Cal. Tech), he is also "going to work on several books: a philosophy of history, and a study of the American political world from the late 19th century to 1976."
Some corporations follow the same pattern as educational institutions in allowing certain employes to take time off to pursue research or educational goals.
The Martin E. Segal Corp., a national actuarial and employe-benefit consulting firm with a Washington office of 20 workers, gives a three-month sabbatical to its professional staff.
"This is not purely a 'refreshment' endeavor. We're asked to contribute to our field with a paper or to take a course at a school," says Shepherd Sheinkman, head of the D.C. office. Nevertheless, Segal employes receive full pay, plus an allowance for travel during those three months.
The Xerox Corp. has perhaps the most unique sabbatical program. Designated a "social-service leave," it allows employes to take four months to one year - at full pay - to go into their communities and work with a non-profit organization. Workers must have a definite proposal in mind, the endorsement of the non-profit agency and the approval of a five-member screening committee.
Pat Dodd, Xerox manager of personnel administration in Leesburg, Va., has just started her social-service leave. She plans to "analyze the need for a shelter for 'children in need' in Loudoun County. There's a lack of housing for juvenile 'status' offenders (runaways, loiterers) here, so they have to be put in jails."
From George Sill, director of personnel at Arthur Andersen and Co., an accounting firm: "We don't have a sabbatical - but I wish we did. We need to refresh ourselves and reassess our perspectives. Three or four weeks of vacation isn't enough for executives under pressure." Taking Time Out For Time Off
How some sabbatical programs began:
At McDonald's, an employe survey revealed more interest in "time off for ourselves" than in a bonus payment.
An informal in-fight talk between Xerox former executive vice-president Archie McCardell and a friend resulted in the idea for their community-service leave program.
Time-Life Books had sabbaticals on its list of proposals to be negotiated under the collective bargaining provisions of the newspaper guild.
At many law firms, the managing partner plus a lawyer's committee proposed the idea.