India Inc Drives ‘Do-Good’ with Sabbaticals Companies encourage employees to work for social causes, enrich sabbatical policies

Pranjal Dubey, a development manager at Sap Labs, has not gone to work in two years but is still an employee of the company. Dubey, who handles the technology team and projects for Asia Pacific and Japan, applied for a sabbatical in 2010 to launch the Sant Singaji Educational Society in his ancestral village in Madhya Pradesh.
Sap Labs has stood by Dubey in his dream to improve socio-economic conditions of youth in the village. The organisation typically offers sabbaticals fromthree months to two years, but Dubey plans to extend his sabbatical by another year to make his project self-sustainable.
Companies like Sap Labs are re-defining sabbaticals by encouraging employees who use them for the greater good. Sabbaticals are usually long leave periods granted to employees for personal exigencies or educational pursuits. Some companies, especially in the IT sector, are increasingly using sabbaticals to retain top talent, says Kaustubh Sonalkar, director of the people and change practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers. “The practice, prevalent abroad, is catching up in India,” he says.
Encouraging employees through sabbaticals helps in stemming attrition rates and the career rut that typically sets in after a few years. “Allowing employees to engage in social projects outside of work helps in organisational brand-building and gives employees a sense of purpose and achievement,” adds Sonalkar.
Organisations like Infosys also encourage employees to pursue sabbaticals for societal benefit apart from pursuing higher education and personal reasons.Under the community empathy policy, the company gives employees monetary support and a platform to involve themselves in development projects. Employees have the option of returning to regular work schedules after completing projects of up to a year.
“Those who return from a sabbatical display a broadened perspective of social issues and causes,” says Richard Lobo, AVP and head of employee relations at Infosys. The renewed understanding of macro issues also makes employees more productive and innovative, he adds.
About 50 employees have availed of the policy since its inception in 2008. Mohan Kadapure, a technical lead at Infosys, is one of them. This year, Kadapure applied for a sabbatical to work with Bangalore-based NGO Janaagraha to understand the different aspects of public policy. “From being focussed on solving business problems of technical clients, the sabbatical enabled me to do my bit to improve government processes,” he says. Kadapure worked on public records of operations and finance at Janaagraha and helped compile a first-ofits-kind study, which will be released this year.
Cadbury India is warming up to the idea of sabbaticals with plans of launching a formal policy this year. “Our intent is to help colleagues make theright choice, offer the right space, support them through the change and help them land a role they value,” says Rajesh Ramanathan, director, HR atCadbury India.
Companies are also looking at ways to keep employees engaged, post-sabbaticals. Maruti Suzuki is revising its sabbatical policy to make it more employee-friendly. Specifically, it is working on redefining the benefits of joining, post-sabbaticals. The idea is to align it to the aspirations of young talent –over 400 engineers and MBAs joining them every year – says SY Siddiqui, COO (administration).
As for the employees, sabbaticals offer greater motivation to influence change on the ground. Sap Labs’ Dubey, for instance, has also launched the Sant Singaji Institute of Science and Management, which provides vocation-oriented graduate degree programmes for young people in and around his village of Sandalpur. Dubey’s dreams have taken on a much larger dimension, and he says it would have not been possible without his company’s support. “Not only did I get considerable encouragement for my sabbatical, but my institute also benefitted through SAP’s CSR division, which starts computer labs in economically backward places,” he says.

Source: The Economic Times

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