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Why Your Company Should Go On Sabbatical

Working until you drop is the American way, but giving your business a break may be the best method of promoting company growth.
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"Sabbatical" is a word that many people in business only use when talking about some lucky relative or friend in academia, or some unlucky colleague forced to take a breather for misconduct. But would you ever put your company on a yearlong break, all in the name of growth?

Simon Cohen, the founder of the London-based communications agency Global Tolerance, has made that unorthodox move. After a decade of building up the business, Global Tolerance had wrangled clients from TED to the Dalai Lama, but Cohen says all the success and hard work created a bigger need for time to reflect on the business model and for employees to focus on their personal lives. 

Ultimately, Cohen writes in Harvard Business Review, the reason for the sabbatical was "so we could come back even better." 

After a serious health scare, Cohen says he realized he had been neglecting his wife, kids, and personal life. He decided that his company needed a rest, too. "On an organizational level, even though we were growing, we seemed to be constantly juggling the increasing demands for client work and the commercial realities of cash flow," he writes. "We needed a radical, reflective look at the mission and business of Global Tolerance, and this could only be done by taking some serious time out."

Cohen points out that the idea of a year's time for rest and regrowth has its roots in the Bible. In the book of Leviticus, it says after six years of working the fields farmers should take the seventh year off and let the land rest and renew its resources for future yields.

Cohen says that Michael Eavis, the founder of of the Glastonbury Festival, the giant outdoor music event that has run since 1970, skipped 2012 for the same reason. He also found that New York-based designer Stefan Sagmeister shutters his studio for a year every seven years to regenerate ideas and creativity.

Although a yearlong break from work may sound like a good way to tank your business, Cohen says he made it work logistically so all his clients wouldn't be stolen or left to fend for themselves. Employees who wanted to keep working he set up as freelancers and gave them all the company's clients. When everyone comes back from a year doing whatever they want, the company, their jobs, and clients will all be intact and waiting.

After a good time away from the incessant flow of work, Cohen became even more convinced that taking a break isn't so bizarre: "Suddenly, the relentless pursuit of revenue, profits, and impact, at the expense of personal health, well-being, and relationships, seemed to be the crazy approach," Cohen writes.

Sabbaticals are an important tradition founders and leaders of all businesses should institutionalize for the sake of employee and company growth, Cohen concludes.

"When we do stop, and give ourselves time to listen to our bodies, and learn from the patient pace of nature, then our growth and success are imbued with new meaning," he writes.

What do you think? Would you have the courage to take a year off from the grindstone? Let us know in the comments below.

Last updated: Jan 6, 2014

WILL YAKOWICZ | Staff Writer | Reporter, Inc.com

Will Yakowicz is a staff writer for Inc. magazine. He has covered business, crime, and local politics for The Brooklyn Paper and was the editor of Park Slope Patch. He has also reported in the West Bank and Moscow for Tablet Magazine. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.




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