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8-Week sabbaticals help workers return fresh, stick around longer

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SC Johnson paid one of its employees 25 percent of her salary to spend eight weeks in Mexico learning the culture and language. The Wisconsin-based home products firm did the same for employees who wanted to spend the summer with their children or hike through Europe.

Those employees are among about 70 who have participated in the company’s five-year-old sabbatical program, which allows anyone who has worked at the company for at least five years to take off eight weeks. Those who have worked a decade get 12 weeks off. Both groups get 25 percent pay and full benefits while they’re gone.

The program is a great retention tool, says company spokeswoman Petrell Ozbay. “You don’t have to make a choice: Do I have to leave the company to go to Mexico for two months?”

The perk is relatively easy for employees to tap into: They fill out a form, talk with their managers and off they go. “You don’t have to go to school or anything specific,” says Ozbay.

Managers either make due with a short staff while employees are on sabbatical, encouraging people to cover for each other, or they hire temps.

The program works because the company’s flexible culture supports it, says Ozbay. “All of our programs work so employees can focus on their work when they’re at work and also pursue outside interests and spend time with their families,” she says.

Contact: Petrell Ozbay, spokeswoman, SC Johnson, (262) 260-2114. 

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