Although begun with the sole purpose of thanking and giving back to hard-working, loyal managers, the 11-year-old sabbatical
program at Hotel Equities has become a “big performance motivator” and talent developer.
Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with the hotel management and consulting company’s director of operations, Tamara Markham, to discuss Atlanta-based Hotel Equities’ sabbatical program, which is offered to all hotel general managers and corporate management staff after every 5 years of service. They get 90 days’ paid of unrestricted time. The company has almost 700 employees.
Hotel managers begin planning their work coverage about two years out from their sabbatical departure date, and the coverage is a highly-regarded opportunity. “We have promoted people who have successfully covered a sabbatical,” Markham says. “It’s a chance for them to show their stripes.”
It’s also a true test of how the general manager has been doing. How well the hotel performs while they’re away is a good performance indicator. Three things are measured before a hotel manager can ever step away on sabbatical: hotel profitability; guest satisfaction; and associate satisfaction.
Markham attributes the company’s low-low turnover rate (less than 1% in 10 years at corporate and less than 5% with hotel general managers) to the sabbatical program. “Who doesn’t want to work for a company that offers this?” she asks. “We say up front, ‘You’re going to work very hard here’, and this program helps us work harder and smarter in the five years in between our sabbaticals.”
When employees return from sabbatical, they’re required to share the story of their experience. “It’s very much a part of our culture and our company’s story.”
CEO Fred Cerrone’s reason for implementing the program was highlighted in a New York Times article. While on a humanitarian trip to rural India more than a decade ago, his life was threatened by people who opposed his efforts. “My life passed before me, and I thought of things I would want to do differently,” Cerrone told the Times. More time with his family hit the top of his list, and he decided that, should he survive the threat to his life, he would figure out how to allow his managers to spend significant time with their families, too. The sabbatical program was born.
Cerrone’s belief in the value of the program is evident. Participation is compulsory, and managers are forced to completely disconnect (no company phones or email allowed) while away.