Faced with the global downturn, many organizations have chosen to preserve jobs and retain talent by implementing agreed changes to working patterns, a move which many workers have turned to their advantage.
In 2009, KPMG in the UK announced its Flexible Futures initiative, under which employees were asked to volunteer to accept a temporary contractual change that would allow the firm to reduce their working hours. Depending on the employees’ preference, the reduction could take the form of a working week reduced by one day or a one-month sabbatical on 30 percent pay.
Jonathan Froome was one of those to step forward and accept the change. It was a decision that ultimately enabled him to undertake a month long trip to Brazil, an ambition that he had been nurturing for some time.
Jonathan works as a manager in the Forensic Investigations & Compliance investigations team. It’s a job that involves work ranging from probes into employee frauds through to investigations covering complex international transactions that may or may not be legitimate. His remit also extends to bribery and corruption cases and advisory work on fraud risk management and compliance issues. It’s demanding work and Jonathan was happy to take a break.
“I had been working at KPMG for nine years and had been considering an unpaid sabbatical,” he recalls. “This program offered the opportunity to take some time off with the advantage of 30 percent pay.”
Time to travel
Jonathan had a definite plan in mind. Having lived in Chile during his gap year and in Mexico as part of his Spanish and Business Studies degree, he had developed a real love for Latin America. However, he had one ambition that had hitherto been unfulfilled. “I had always wanted to go to Brazil, but it was a country that needed a lot of my time. If you only have a couple of weeks, you can’t really see everything you need to see because it takes time just to travel around.”
When Jonathan volunteered to accept a contractual change via the Flexible Futures scheme he was contacted shortly afterwards and from then things started happen. He was able to select a time of his choosing. “It was great that I could choose my own dates,” he says.
Brazil didn’t disappoint. “The people there are great fun,” he says. “I really did enjoy the ‘fiesta spirit.’” Jonathan’s trip began in Rio where he organized accommodation with a local family, a situation that allowed him to get a real flavor of life in the city. In addition to time spent on the beach, he brushed up on his Portuguese (he studied the language at University) with a short course at a local language school.
When the time came to travel out of Rio, he lived the life of the backpacker. Although in financial terms this wasn’t really necessary, Jonathan felt that as a stranger in a strange land it was a more sociable way to travel than driving hire cars and staying in more expensive hotels.
Highlights of the trip included a visit to The Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland followed by five days trekking in the Amazon accompanied by two guides. “We were sleeping in hammocks between trees and hunting for food,” he recalls.
The trip has also brought him a measure of fame. Earlier this year, Jonathan appeared on Travelers’ Tree, a program broadcast by BBC Radio 4 in the UK. Built around the theme of adult sabbaticals and gap years, the program talked to travelers and discussed the benefits of a longer than usual amount of time away from the office.
As he confirmed on the program, a sabbatical really does offer a chance to relax, escape the pressures of work and return rejuvenated. “It really was a case of recharging my batteries,” he says. “I had a great time, but it also made me realize how much I enjoy my work. When I returned to the office, I was ready to go at full speed.”
Jonathan acknowledges that a protracted break on lower pay is not for everyone. As he points out, someone with a young family and/or a lot of financial commitments might not welcome a temporary cut in wages. “But for me it was a wholly positive experience,” he says.
Back to work
Jonathan feels he won’t be leaving the office for a prolonged period again any time soon. “I think it was probably a one-off. Since last year, things have become very busy in the Forensic practice, so I don’t think the department will be invoking the Flexible Futures option for the foreseeable future.”
Nonetheless, for Jonathan, a longer than usual respite from the working environment has been a fantastic and memorable experience.