By Sharmadean Reid
Please find enclosed my resignation letter….” as I opened the email I was saddened by the team member who felt so overwhelmed by a personal family issue that was taking up all of her mental space that she felt she had to resign. I loved working with this young person - an incredibly talented fast learner, and thought she had a bright future ahead. I thought how can we make it work together? I offered her a three month sabbatical - the first time I’d ever done this, and it seemed to work. At the end of the quarter, she came back part time, building her hours up and eventually when she did leave the company much later, it was to start her own agency, under her own terms. I like to believe that the security of having a job to come back to, along with the confidence to start her own business after another year in my team created a more favourable outcome than if she had simply quit.
When I hear daily reports of movements within today’s labour force - such as women leading The Great Resignation or the fact that this is the first time in recorded history that there are more job postings than applicants, and I wonder, do we all just need to rest, rather than to quit?
Not since the industrial revolution have we seen such an upheaval in the way we work. The lingering effect of the pandemic is a complete disruption to the relationship between the office and self and for young women, it’s not really been working out. These last two years have seen unprecedented levels of women reporting burnout, anxiety and loneliness - double the amount of men. Even as summer approaches, and normality appears to be resuming, let us not forget the emotional labour and additional care work that has formed a ball of trauma in our bodies. The result? 1 in 3 women have admitted to thinking about leaving work in the last year or downshifting their career and 4 in 10 women have considered switching their jobs or leaving their company. McKinsey & Co’s Women in the Workplace Report states “Companies need to take significant steps to address burnout in their female staff, or risk a significant lack of female leadership due to many women choosing to leave the workplace in lieu of asking for a rest.”
I felt this myself many times during the pandemic. A desire to escape, to quit and to run away. Many women have already done so. But then I started wondering, who would fill my place?
Even before the pandemic, there was a chasm - usually around the maternity leave years - where women in the workplace would pull back from leadership roles. Almost all organisations with a graduate training program successfully achieve 50/50 gender intake, only to see leadership levels at anything from 4-44% women. Where are we all going? Prioritising the self is revolutionary and I believe that friendships and relationships provide the solid foundations upon which you can thrive in all areas of life. But I do worry about what quitting will do for our gender balance in leadership in roles in the future.
I believe hybrid working is already affecting women’s chances for early promotion (more on that in another article) but removing yourself from the workforce takes you off that path entirely, and with the speed with which innovation and culture moves, you could find it difficult to re-enter with confidence. Do we really want to look at the boardroom in three to five years' time, and be faced with a sea of default men, the ones who were able to climb the career ladder while we opted out?
This dichotomy troubles me - a desire to prioritise my wellbeing (and #optout) while also wanting to ensure equality at the highest levels of business and society. To me, The Stack community are the future leaders in their fields. What would happen if all these intelligent young women decided to opt out? A less diverse workforce of mission driven women, that’s for sure. Is that what we really want?
So what’s the solution? Enter Hot Girl Sabbatical. While the rest of memeland is preparing for Hot Girl Summer, here at The Stack, we are obsessed with a Hot Girl Sabbatical. Coined by Founding Member, Inès Elsa Dalal.
Hot Girl Sabbatical starts with a prolonged period of time Out Of Office. It could be anything from 3 weeks to 3 months, but enough time to truly allow yourself to begin a regenerative process - whatever that looks like for you.
In an interview with NPR, Jonathan Malesic, author of The End Of Burnout, states that the rewards we get at work aren’t just financial, they can also be social, emotional and spiritual. But burnout is a result of being stretched across this gap between your ideals for work and the reality of your job.
A sabbatical (from the Hebrew word shabbāth, meaning “rest.”) allows you to swing your attention pendulum fully to that social, emotional and spiritual side, filling your bucket so you can come back to the reality of your job with a renewed perspective and energy. It could be nothing more than spending time with friends and family, rediscovering nature, pursuing a personal project or simply just sleeping. We all need a break sometimes and a week off doesn’t always cut it.
Every seven years, designer Stefan Sagmeister closes his New York studio for a year long sabbatical to rejuvenate and refresh their creative outlook. Imagine that! A whole year off! He’s been doing this for decades and when I first heard of this practice around twenty years ago, I was totally bemused. Now I fully get it, and so do many companies today such as Monzo, who now offer three months’ paid leave a year for all members of staff.
So how do you start your Hot Girl Sabbatical? Zoe Lindsay breaks it down perfectly, but first and foremost, figure out what’s missing for you right now. Use an exercise such as the Wheel of Life or our Vision Setting Workshop to see where you’re undernourished. A sabbatical isn’t necessarily about going offline or retreating to the mountains like a hermit. Don’t feel you have to hide away. Instead embrace it openly and publicly so that we can change the culture of work life flow and let others know what is possible. Take a sabbatical, keep the door half open, and step through it confidently and with your energy levels at optimum.
A final word: Let’s not forget that a sabbatical is white collar luxury. It assumes knowledge work, forward thinking employers and a financial stability that supports you to have leave, whether paid or not
Many women are small business owners, who may be completely unable to take leave as their business relies on them to drive it. Or service workers on zero hours contracts. For those who are able to take sabbaticals, maybe consider spending some of that time paying it forward and volunteering your skills and expertise for a woman for whom that option simply isn’t available to them.
We don’t have all the answers on Sabbaticals, and I want to hear all the counter arguments. If you want to write a piece on the theme of Hot Girl Sabbatical, send it over to email@example.com. You may have taken a sabbatical successfully or not, you might feel anger at the utter priviliege of it. I want to hear your perspective. I also want to hear your experiences and thoughts IRL. For our June event, we want to try something a little different with a discussion dinner at the brand new Koko Members Club. At this unique dinner for just 70 Members, we will share whether sabbaticals work, or not. What to do if your employer says no, and how to come back properly. Reserve your place now.
Want to inject some social nourishment in your life right now? Our Out Of Office meet up at The Curtain Club on May 31st is a chance for you to unwind, have fun and meet other members. Make sure you RSVP here.
The Stack World is committed to exploring the relationship between women and labour and how this impacts equality, economics and technology. Join the conversation in our communities today.
The Great Resignation is driven by women leaving the workforce, but is resting better than quitting to avoid a future gender leadership gap?
By Sharmadean Reid
The Stack speaks exclusively with Greek designer Mary Katrantzou on her new Lipsy London collection, welcoming indecision, and unlocking a new sense of bravery since becoming a mother.