How SAP uses ‘social sabbaticals’ to retain employees By Reuters

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: SAP brand at SAP headquarters in Walldorf, Germany, January 24, 2017. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski/File Photo

By Chris Taylor

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The pandemic period upended the world in all types of the way, however one of the crucial fascinating is the so-called ‘Great Resignation.’ Employees are shifting out of their earlier roles in numbers not seen for many years.

Here is an thought to preserve employees challenged and engaged, as an alternative of heading elsewhere: the ‘social sabbatical.’


The brainchild of enterprise software program agency SAP – impressed by others with comparable packages, like IBM (NYSE:) – social sabbaticals take chosen employees away from their 9-to-5 roles and throw them an intriguing problem someplace across the globe whereas working with a staff to remedy actual issues.

Heading up that program is SAP’s world head of company social accountability, Alexandra van der Ploeg. She spoke with Reuters concerning the worth of injecting function and vitality into work. Edited excerpts are under.

Q: What is the historical past of social sabbaticals?

A: We began with one small pilot program in 2012 to check the waters. It hit a nerve, as a result of after that first 12 months it began increasing quickly.


To date, over 1,300 employees have participated in 51 nations, partnering with virtually 500 nonprofit organizations and social enterprises, impacting 6 million lives.

Q: How does a social sabbatical work?

A: It’s an immersive program, in that you simply go onsite for 4 weeks straight. You take that point off out of your common job, work on a concrete strategic problem {that a} nonprofit group is going through and supply concrete deliverables that actually drive influence.

Q: Describe the expertise?


A: It is a pressure-cooker setting. You are taking a bunch of employees, usually round 12, and sending them to an rising market they’ve by no means been to earlier than.

You are immersing them in a company they do not know, and placing them in a staff setting, with extremely excessive variety of nationalities and age and ranges of expertise.

Q: Can you give an instance?

A: In India, we labored with a basis with a mission to bridge the digital divide and facilitate the adoption of expertise in schooling. They wanted experience to develop a studying platform, to assist youth be taught at their very own tempo.

This was pre-COVID, so the timing was very best: not solely did they get the proper enter to ensure they’d a strong digital platform, however when COVID got here, they have been completely arrange to transfer studying content material from bodily environments into digital ones.

Q: Do you advise different firms on how to arrange social sabbaticals of their very own?

A: We discovered rather a lot from firms that had been working with fashions like this prior to us, like IBM, which was one of many forerunners. In flip, we now interact with a variety of different firms to present recommendation in organising their very own packages.

What we usually do is invite different firms to be part of us, and go away some open slots for them. Direct publicity to this system, to allow them to expertise it for themselves, exhibits the true worth of what we do.

Q: How did COVID have an effect on this program?

A: We had to pivot. Social sabbaticals have been suspended, however we provided digital professional bono consulting fashions with nice success.

We are optimistic that we are going to restart this system in 2022 – possibly not full-blown throughout the entire portfolio, as a result of that is perhaps an excessive amount of, however a aware re-entry the place we are able to check the waters.

Q: What recommendation would you may have for different firms about beginning their very own social sabbaticals?

A: Don’t get scared about perceived obstacles and hurdles, as a result of they’re all manageable. They secret’s to begin small, and take a look at testing it out first.

Make positive the training that’s happening aligns together with your management rules and behaviors as a result of that varies from firm to firm. You want to get some real-world expertise with a program like this, and you’ll’t try this by sitting in an workplace someplace and designing one thing in concept.

Q: How does this program have an effect on employees once they come again?

A: It has vital influence on worker engagement. We have seen the figures on our finish: there’s larger retention amongst social sabbatical members.

When employees come again, they’re extra motivated to do their job and search for methods to incorporate that studying into their very own enterprise setting. They come again impressed about what they’ll do to enhance issues.

Any firm that’s critical about function and sustainability wants to give their employees the chance to expertise on-the-ground what that actually means. The social sabbatical does that.

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