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Sabbaticals at Intel: space to answer life’s questions

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We asked Raj Suri, Employer Brand Strategist for Intel, to share his #StorytellerMoment in this guest post. Thanks, Raj!

I left work for 2 months.  During that time, I went to 3 beaches and 4 national parks. I sipped on drinks in 2 foreign countries.  I enjoyed 4 milkshakes and 3 massages. I woke-up whenever I wanted and would often decide that day what adventure I would go on.  During this whole time, I was being paid by my employer – my full salary. I was enjoying, in my humble and very biased opinion, one of the greatest benefits in the tech industry – the Intel sabbatical.

Intel offers a sabbatical program to its US-based employees who can choose to take 8 weeks off after every 7 years of service, or 4 weeks off after every four years of service.  This is on top of your regular vacation. I’ve spent 21 years at Intel, so I started planning my third sabbatical this year. 

My agenda looked like this:

1.     Road trip to Sedona and Grand Canyon with my son

3.     Beach time in Mexico and Delaware

4.     Explore Dubrovnik, Croatia

5.     Experience natural wonders like Zion National Park and Monument Valley

6.   Hike Bryce Canyon since the Grand Canyon just wasn’t enough!

7.   Hang with Dad.

When I was finished with my list, I had 10-11 destinations to visit throughout my native Arizona, across the US and around the world. I made the very most of my time: my sabbatical started at 12 pm on a Friday, and I was on a beach in Mexico 5 hours later. It was a jam packed 8 weeks off, filled with travels, friends and family visited. 

I traveled the world, and checked off major bucket list items. What I didn’t expect: my most lasting memories will be the time I spent with my father, not doing much of anything. 

My dad flew to  Arizona to stay with me for three weeks. When was the last time you spent three whole weeks with your parents as an adult? A long weekend, a few vacation days a year, or family occasions don’t give you this type of quality time. Not only is time limited, but your hectic life is always lingering in the back of your mind. You don’t get the time and space to settle into normal life together, to do nothing together. 

My dad has arthritis, so we decided to lay low. We went for milkshakes and massages during the middle of the weekday. We settled into a routine of going to the gym to burn off those milkshakes. And all this led to plenty of time of me and my Dad just talking about life. As we all grow older, you realize more and more that you don’t get this time back. 

Intel’s sabbatical program gives employees the time and space they need to recharge, reconnect, and re-evaluate. The Intel culture supports this program in the following ways: 

  • No work contact with the sabbatical’ed. This time off is sacred. You are truly off the grid.
  • Intel recognizes that a sabbatical has other organizational and professional development value. Important work is transitioned to members of your existing team, or used as development opportunities for other team members within Intel. Months in advance, you can post your job or projects to the entire company through the Development Opportunity Tool and any full-time employee is allowed to apply. As I was preparing for my sabbatical, I recognized that a colleague in another group who wanted to gain exposure into strategic employer branding work. My sabbatical gave her the opportunity to try elements of my job. When a position opened up on my team a few weeks later, she was a natural fit and was ultimately hired! My sabbatical was clearly great for me, my team member, my team, and Intel. 
  • Even with advance planning, there is no perfect time to take 8 weeks off. Intel understands that some minor things won’t get done, and that’s OK. 
  • There was a global team face-to-face in Arizona while I was on sabbatical.  I was in-between trips so I stopped by to meet all my colleagues who I typically only talk to over the phone since they live overseas.  No work talk at all. Just hugs and storytelling with the best work family you could ever ask for.

Through a sabbatical, Intel allows team members the time and space to answer big questions: What do you want out of life? Are you living your best life? What needs to change? What is it that you truly value? 

This time around I sought to answer these questions: What did I want to do differently? What gives me fulfillment, and how can I do more of that at Intel? How could I steer more of my day to day tasks into more meaningful work? 

I was ready to return after 8 weeks away.  I was able to have productive conversations with my leadership about how I could focus on the activities that were most impactful and fulfilling to me personally and professionally, and I had a renewed creative edge to my work. 

And it was great to be celebrated by my team, who decorated my cube in a Where’s Waldo? theme, given my world exploration.  

After you’re afforded the time to have these life experiences, unburdened and uninterrupted, I don’t know how you can do without it.  Thanks, Intel, for providing this benefit to your team members.