Have you ever felt so burned out at work that you wanted to take, oh say, 10 weeks off and learn more about French cuisine, go fly fishing, or just get in touch with your life again? Sounds too good to be true, but if you worked at Arrow Electronics you could get away from business for a while by participating in the company's Sabbatical Program. Better yet, the company has turned its 8-year-old program into a unique, structured training opportunity for those employees temporarily filling the vacated positions.
Every employee who has worked at Arrow for seven years is eligible for the eight- to 10-week sabbatical. And employees can use the time-off as they wish, says Kathy Bernhard, director of management development for the Melville, N.Y.-based distributor of computer products and electronic components. "We tend to run people really hard," she explains. "There's a lot of travel associated with many of these jobs, and it's a high-stress, high-change industry, so it's really just a chance for people to get recharged."
Not long after the sabbatical program was created, members of the corporate training and development department saw the opportunity for high-potential employees to benefit from added experience in the vacated jobs. Employees showing promise and a willingness to learn are assigned to fill specific open positions, if only for 10 weeks. By filling in for those on sabbatical, employees enhance their careers and increase their understanding of the business, Bernhard says.
"One of the things we stress over and over again with regard to experience is that broader is better," says Bernhard. "So it's a way to really get a taste of what a different marketplace might be like and what a different job might be like without having to pick up and permanently move."
Employees filling in for those away are encouraged to document what they learn and reflect on their experiences using Arrow's Sabbatical Coverage Learner's Workbook. Filled with inspiring quotations and probing questions, the workbook subtly teaches two important Arrow themes: how to ask for and receive feedback, and the importance of reflecting on experience.
"There are a couple of things that we really believe," says Bernhard. "One is that learning agility is a differentiator. The people who are more learning-agile are people who try to make sense of their experience. Some people do this naturally. But we teach people, every opportunity we have, that it is possible to get yourself into the habit of being introspective and reflecting on what happens today: 'What did I learn? How is it the same or different from what I knew and the way I worked before?' We believe that matters."
As one of the world's largest products and services provider to the electronics industry, Arrow operates more than 225 sales facilities and 23 distribution centers in 39 countries. Decisions for sabbatical coverage are made with the company's and employee's best interests in mind, says Bernhard, and many have led to interesting assignments. Such was the case last year when a manager from Milan, Italy, traveled to corporate headquarters to serve as senior vice president of supplier services.
"We get a lot of bang for the buck," Bernhard says. "Not only does the program serve as a retention tool for people who have the opportunity to go on sabbatical, but it also serves as a developmental tool—and in some ways a retention tool as well—for people who get to do sabbatical coverage. In a sense, everybody wins." —J.S.