Maternity Leave Without the Maternity Part

It’s commonplace to hear of women taking a few paid months off after having a baby to spend time with their new child and regroup. And some progressive companies even offer paid paternity leave, so new fathers can enjoy the same benefits.

But what if you’re not having or adopting a baby, and you still would like three paid months off? Many of us are not having babies, and yet we have “brainchildren” and personal fulfillment we would like to nurture. Is there a brainchildren version of maternity/paternity leave that’s also paid?

I found articles, like this one, online about sabbaticals, but none of them addressed the idea that a company that offers maternity and paternity leave should offer the same benefit to employees who aren’t planning to have children. Do you have ideas for how such a benefit could work? It could be complicated. After all, even those who aren’t planning to have children sometimes do. What happens if an employee takes the paid three-month sabbatical benefit, and then six months later is expecting a baby or decides to adopt? An easy solution would be to have the employee accepting the three-month paid sabbatical sign a document stating that by taking the sabbatical benefit he or she is foregoing the right to a paid maternity/paternity leave for at least 12 months, and that an employee can only take a paid three-month sabbatical once every five years. That way it also would serve as a retention tool. And that stipulation could be changed to only once every 10 years if the company felt that would be more financially realistic.

Paying employees to take a few months off to help brainchildren get born and thrive is in any organization’s interest because brainchildren mean new ideas. For instance, I’d like to take a few paid months off to travel, including an African safari. I took a course in medical anthropology in college, and currently serve as executive editor for a health trade publication. Maybe traveling for an extended time in Africa could give me ideas for ways to improve health-care services in struggling parts of the U.S., where many of our readers operate their own practices.

In addition, I’d like to have a few months to focus on my avocation of creative writing. My writing skills may be sharpened by having all that time to concentrate on nothing but writing. It also could bring a freshness to my writing once back on the job.

If you wanted to create a structure for learning, you could require those applying for a three-month paid sabbatical to write a proposal of what they plan to do during the sabbatical, and the lessons or skills they might learn that could be brought back to their jobs. Even the most unlikely activities could result in learning valuable to the company. Let’s say the employee wants to do a challenging hike up a mountain with a group of friends; there’s a wealth of skills and lessons in that experience about teamwork and ingenuity. Or let’s say the employee wants to focus for a few months on painting and refurbishing his or her house. The employee might learn valuable lessons about managing a large project, vetting vendors, and comparing compelling marketing from, and personal meetings with, those vendors with less successful sales pitches.

An employee who wants to take a few months to volunteer at an animal shelter or at another charity can come back to the company with a greater understanding of the community the company serves. He or she also could come back with ideas for creating corporate social responsibility programs that appeal to customers looking to support businesses that have values they share.

Every experience in life comes with learning opportunities. Those experiences often exist outside a cubicle or office. It may be in your interest to help employees chase those experiences without going bankrupt or endangering their career.

Does your company offer paid leave for employees to pursue outside interests? What is the value of this kind of program, and how could it be done in an economical way that benefits both employees and the company?

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