Thermoforming Report

May Thermoforming Report: The Practicals of Sabbaticals

by Keith Brown, President & Owner, Siena Group.

May 2023.

Happy Friday to you! Today’s article highlights sabbaticals – something a lot of us are not familiar with. It is an excerpt from a larger blog post (due to be published at the end of the month) that discusses our approach to vacations and time off here in the US. Though I believe we all understand the need for physical and mental rest, it is built into our culture to ignore it and press on. As summer rapidly approaches, maybe we should begin to think differently about what it means to take a ‘real’ vacation!

As usual, we have several great articles relevant to our industry and quite a few amazing All Stars to highlight! Check them out down below in the links on the right. We also have more extraordinary talent in the Featured Talent tab.

What about Sabbaticals?

What is a sabbatical? Interestingly, though we all have a sense of the meaning of the word, the definition is varied and points to why the idea is foreign to American manufacturing workers and leaders.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the definition is “a period of paid leave granted to a university teacher or other worker for study or travel, traditionally one year for every seven years worked.” The Wikipedia version is a bit more general, defining a sabbatical as “a rest or break from work; an extended period of time intentionally spent on something that’s not your routine job.” I find it fascinating that an agricultural conscript based in Biblical times somehow morphed into one that was accepted at the highest levels of academia! Without getting into the history and derivation of the word (just read the Wikipedia page and check out the references), the point is that a sabbatical is a full and extended break from what is normal for you.

In digging into this topic in my research for this article, there was a TON of content out there… and nearly all of it is less than a couple of years old. It is very normal to find a tremendous amount of information on any given topic at any given moment. But, finding relevant and thoughtful articles based on recent studies points to something more urgent: it’s because of what people and thought-leaders are seeing in the workplace right now due to any number of reasons, not the least of which was the pandemic. High levels of stress, burnout, ‘quiet quitting’, and similar are having a major impact on the workplace, and something needs to change for the better.

Sabbaticals can come in all shapes and sizes, depending on the organization and the employees. They can be paid or unpaid, and sometimes even occur when people are between jobs – provided they have the financial means needed for this extended time. One of the best ways I found to describe a sabbatical is by comparing it to a vacation.

“The difference between a vacation and a sabbatical is like ‘the difference between taking a power nap and getting a full night’s sleep’.”

What is Life Like When We Subtract Work From It“, The Atlantic

I took a dive into the comparison between the US and European cultures as it relates to time off, and it is no surprise that a sabbatical in America is quite foreign to us!

In societies that have come to be defined by the Protestant work ethic, taking such prolonged periods away from work can feel all kinds of self-indulgent. Indeed, data suggests that over half of Americans fail to take their full holiday entitlement (which is already much lower than most other countries), if they even take any holidays at all in a given year. So the thought of taking several weeks off is understandably anathema to many.

Yet, research from the University of Washington argues that sabbaticals can actually be hugely beneficial for employees and employers alike. The researchers found that people who take sabbaticals nearly always return with a fresh sense of confidence, renewed purpose, and a pronounced sense of voice.”

[From How Sabbaticals Help Our Careers: Forbes]

Another great article from Forbes, “A Strategic Sabbatical Can Help Your Employees Survive Burnout,” digs into several aspects of a sabbatical from the perspective of a CEO that co-founded a company. Though a very short article, I found it highly profound! The author stated, “Everyone who works in your organization is essentially a volunteer, especially in today’s labor market.” Wow! Though I’ve never thought about it that way, he flat-out nails it when describing the war on talent that we are all bantering about.

The Experience

As is typical, Harvard Business Review dug into sabbaticals in a lot of detail, performing a “rigorous study” on the topic. “Research: The Transformative Power of Sabbaticals“, (Harvard Business Review), gets into the meat and potatoes a bit on the various types of sabbaticals, their implications, and even how to use them effectively in an organization.

I have two personal examples with friends that took a sabbatical – one was a Senior Marketing Leader at McDonald’s, and one is a close friend and Senior Pastor at our church. In HBR’s definition, I believe both were “quests” – a full break from routine for an extended period that included rest, reconnecting, time with friends and family, some adventuring, alone time away, lots of reading, and ultimately renewal.

Interestingly, the one friend at McDonald’s did exactly what HBR described about a ‘quest’ – he left the company about a year after returning from his sabbatical and shifted into entrepreneurial mode, becoming a franchise owner of a different beloved fast-food restaurant. My Senior Pastor came back fresh, well-read, and passionate about what was next for our church, ready to lead and push forward.

The same HBR article gets a bit into the benefits and pitfalls that can occur when sabbaticals are implemented. I’m not naïve enough to believe any one leader or any organization can just flip the switch and all will be roses and rainbows. Even so, it is very compelling to consider.

Regardless of the sabbatical they chose, and in spite of any harsh experiences, elements, or emotions that many would face, every one of our participants reported a positive transformation. So the question isn’t whether sabbaticals change employees’ work for the better, but how and how much. Our research offers some clarity into different options for sabbaticals and their consequences, which can help both employees seeking a change and organizations looking to better support these workers.”

[Again, from the HBR article.]

In a personal perspective article from Business Insider, “I Got Paid to Not Work for 2 Months“, the author describes her sabbatical experience and how it ultimately impacted her outlook on pretty much everything. “Having the dedicated sabbatical time to completely focus on my family taught me the value of staying wholeheartedly in the moment.Powerful. She goes on to talk about how it affected her retention at the company. It was their investment in her that ultimately benefited both her and the team. Do you think that I could court her away to another organization? No chance!

Another recent article from Psychology Today about sabbaticals highlighted yet again the impact it had on the author’s life, in this case as a college professor. It was huge for him in many different ways. He similarly concluded, “Not only are sabbaticals attractive to job seekers, but they also offer opportunities for employees to improve their mental health, consider a work-life balance, and develop creative solutions to issues they were facing at work. Moreover, paid sabbatical leaves can encourage employees to stay loyal to a company.

Finally, the SHRM article “Sabbaticals Could Be the Solution to Employee Burnout” gets into how to implement a bit more, highlighting “the why, determining eligibility, how to cover the absence, and being prepared for the employee’s return.

No, it won’t be easy. But in this day and in this market and in our country especially, maybe it is time to consider a different approach to investing in your team via sabbaticals.

The Takeaway

In summary, based on quite a few recent studies, sabbaticals should be something you may want to explore as an organization.  Leverage SHRM and resources like The Sabbatical Project to better understand how it would be implemented and leveraged for your team. 

Though I’m not one to get political, especially in this forum, I do think that we as Americans need to rethink our collective vacation/leave/sabbatical policies as we better understand the implications – and costs – of attrition and retention due to frustrated, stressed-out, and burned-out team members. 

It’s time to get creative and develop lasting solutions that work! Many companies see offering sabbaticals as a way to retain existing employees or attract new talent by providing them with the most valuable resource: time. Sabbaticals may not work in every business setting, but the underlying work-life balance principle — that employees and leaders need time away from work to best maximize their productivity — is applicable in every business!


“Everyone who works in your organization is essentially a volunteer, especially in today’s labor market.”

Michael McFall, Forbes
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There’s been a LOT of recent interest generated around Sales. So, this month’s All-Stars are focused on Business Development and Sales Leaders!

Business Development Manager: This Sales Leader has nearly 5 years of experience in thin-gauge thermoforming and more than 20 years in food service/packaging. Her extensive experience in food, specifically in the retail space working with some of the largest big box chains out there, allows her unmatched know-how to dramatically grow new business into major revenue-generating accounts!

Technical Sales Manager: This Medical Device Packaging and Sales Expert has nearly 30 years of experience in thin-gauge thermoforming with a mix of clean room (electronics), med device packaging, and food packaging. He brings expertise in thermoforming manufacturing, product design, tooling, and sales… a true multi-faceted performer!

Regional Sales Manager: This Sales Leader brings over 15 years of experience in paper, films, and thin-gauge thermoforming, with significant strengths in food packaging. Most recently, he is the leading rep for a top-20 thermoforming company, increasing sales in his division from less than $10M to nearly $30M in 4 years!

Regional Sales Manager: This very strong food packaging, western-focused Regional Sales Leader brings over 15 years of experience in multiple channels – grocery, QSR, beverage, distribution, and even CPG. With a proven consistent significant year-over-year growth, he absolutely gets it done!

Even More Thermoforming Talent! We work with so many talented people in so many different functions – and all in thermoforming – that we can’t possibly highlight them all! We are here to be your Thermoforming Talent Partner. Whether it’s an Operations Leader, Plant Manager, specialized Engineer, Quality Leader, Sales Leader, or pretty much any thermoforming role, we are here to help. If you have a need, please do not hesitate to just reach out! 

Click for more All-Stars.

At Siena Group, we are your Thermoforming Talent Partner. With more than 30 years of experience in manufacturing, hiring & recruiting talent, we bring a greater understanding of the companies we partner with and the candidates we pursue. Let’s Strengthen Your Search!

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