Association executives seldom enjoy the benefit offered in higher education, religion, or other professions, the opportunity to go on sabbatical.

It is a break from work so that an employee can pursue interests such as research, writing, volunteering or rest. During a sabbatical, the employee is still paid although relieved from their normal job duties or from reporting to work.

There is envy when a friend announces, “I’m going on sabbatical to get some needed rest and to write my book.” The length of time away ranges from a month to a year.

Do you ever feel like you just need time for a change in scenery, clear your head, hear a different perspective or finish a project?


When an employee feels burnt out or needs time away, most turn to their earned vacation time. That causes more stress as one worries about using up vacation days. Some employees solve their dilemma by quitting their job.

Some executives take care of their health by scheduling a monthly day at the spa or for reading and relaxing, at their expense. Nothing is as good as being able to be away from the office, personal growth and continue to be compensated.

This article describes a unique mechanism to recharge an employee, exchange best practices, and promote the association and its interests.

The One-Day Sabbatical

While everyone would like to have weeks or months for a paid sabbatical, many situations work against that. Executives are responding to members, preparing for meetings, and facing deadlines. The single-day approach might work best.

An example is at the Williamson County Association of REALTORS® (WCAR) in Round Rock, Texas, where the board offers the executive director a short-term sabbatical.

It works because of a relationship of care and trust between the CEO and the board of directors. The board encourages the executive to visit other organizations working in the same space. For example, a visit to a respected association across the country or in-state to discuss challenges and share best practices.

“My board understands the value in getting me out of the office. In my employment contract, they offer me 5 days annually to assist other associations. This could be for strategic planning, budget assistance, leadership development, etc.”

In addition to the day away, travel expenses and time are also provided. This demonstrates their commitment to staff and association.

Win-Win Situation

Not only does the employee return recharged, but they bring with them good ideas and best practices. The association has an immediate benefit and becomes stronger as the executive promotes his or her organization.

The one-day sabbatical is great for all involved. The association benefits from an external perspective.

My board benefits through the development of partners as well as unique ideas applicable to strategy, governance, and management. The executive benefits from having a fresh viewpoint away from the daily grind and by being stretched to consider new challenges in the industry.

“This is a good way to enrich an organization. Other associations have great ideas from which we can benefit and learn,” said Deb Treat Frazier, RCE and CEO at the REALTOR® Association of Southwestern Illinois.

It’s a win-win-win situation for associations.


The one-day sabbatical may be a part of the compensation package. Because the activity benefits the association and the executive, consider adding it to the budget and policy manual: Up to five days per year to be used on sabbatical.

It should be discussed between the executive and chief elected officer. At WCAR the program is built upon the principles of transparency and trust. Instead of micromanaging an employee, there is a platform for professional growth.

In summary, balance of life and work is important. Growing is important. Investing in others is important. The one-day sabbatical affords an opportunity to achieve all three.