Stuck Between Study Abroad & Sabbatical

Why sending your employees abroad helps them (and you) when they return

When I had the opportunity to study abroad during college I jumped at the chance. Admittedly, as a student studying the socio-political landscape of Latin America, it was almost a given that I would make that choice. But I was certainly not alone - and today the trend is on the rise. Each year, more and more university students choose to travel, learn and explore in a new geographic and cultural context. Whether a short term summer program, or a full year of immersion, over 325,000 US college students participate in study abroad programs annually.

The rewards from this educational investment have been demonstrated and measured as students with study abroad experience are hired quicker and paid better than their peers. The business world clearly values individuals who bring a global perspective to the interview table.

Yet, once an employee begins a new job, the opportunities to further cultivate this global mindset often disappear. Instead, if they’re lucky, these new-hires are stuck counting down the years until they are able to earn a sabbatical - which sits on the horizon as the next big opportunity for international learning and adventure. Sabbaticals have been heralded as career saving balms for burnout and more and more companies have been incorporating them into their employee benefits package (23 companies on the 2017 Fortune 100 Best list offer partial or fully paid sabbaticals).

Travel has long been associated with enhanced creativity, improved intelligence, better health, and connection across cultures. For companies, it can also offer chances to network with colleagues or other professionals as well as develop cross cultural relationships that lead to global citizenship. Given the benefits of travel and the desire of employees for continued global engagement, why require them to wait?

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What are the benefits of integrating travel into your employee experience?

  • ATTRACT AND RETAIN YOUNG WORKERS  //  By 2020, almost half of the U.S. workforce will be composed of millennials. This generation has indicated they are willing to take a pay cut of $7,600 to improve their “quality of work life.” This includes offering opportunities to travel, to reflect their interest in engaging with a diverse range of cultures.
     

  • COMBAT EMPLOYEE BURNOUT  //  Workers are more productive than ever, but this has come at a cost - employees are working longer hours, and wage growth is extremely small. Many feel they are facing greater pressure at work, and consistently find it difficult to unplug and take a vacation. Although employers generally agree employees need to find a sustainable work-life balance, they generally overestimate the number of employees who actually feel as though they have achieved such a balance. Through travel programs focused on both social good and personal growth, employees can find time to recharge and reconnect with their peers.
     

  • BOOST WORKER SATISFACTION AND PRODUCTIVITY  //  Travel, engaging in meaningful experiences, and giving back outside of work has the potential to boost employee happiness, which has been linked to increases in productivity. Gallup found that only 33% of employees are engaged at work, costing U.S. businesses $483 to $605 billion per year. Employers can capitalize on the links between impact travel and engagement to boost employee productivity.
     

  • BUILD CULTURAL FLUENCY  //  Surveyed CEOs have identified cultural competency as a top leadership skill. This is likely unsurprising, as cross-cultural competency is more important than ever in today’s increasingly connected world. By exposing workers to travel experiences, employers can develop their employees’ abilities to both interact with members of another culture, and push them to work in a space that may be outside their comfort zone.

Ultimately, the same employees so sought after by employers for their savvy college travel experiences don’t lose their wanderlust when they sign up for a 9-5. Giving employees opportunities to cultivate a global perspective even before they achieve sabbatical status has powerful payoffs for both the employee’s personal fulfillment and for the company’s bottom line.

What does prioritizing travel opportunities look like in practice? This can be different for each team - perhaps it might include increasing vacation time available for employees and incentivizing them to take it by making it a required practice, or even providing an annual travel stipend. Or, a company can partner with an organization like Ignite, which will seamlessly integrate travel into their suite of employee benefits and professional development opportunities. Regardless of how you choose to integrate travel, scratching the travel “itch” for employees who want to cultivate an international perspective and explore new cultures can have a powerful ROI for employers who want an engaged and motivated workforce, filled with global citizens.


 

Thanks to Aran Teeling for support drafting this piece.