December 08, 2000, 11:54 AM — TAKING EXTENDED time off appears to be one of those appealing ideals that has
not quite caught on.
There is still little clamor for unpaid leaves in many traditional IT shops,
although that's starting to change in Silicon Valley where the joke is that someone
might leave for lunch and never come back because he or she got a job offer too good to
pass up. Offering extended time off is seen by some in Silicon Valley as one more perk
to improve retention.
"Most companies in California are so desperate for IT people that they are pretty
compliant about granting leaves," says Karen Jorgensen, president of Jorgensen Human
Resources, a consulting firm, in La Canada, Calif. "And big companies such as Microsoft
and Hewlett-Packard grant leaves of absence to IT people to do all kinds of personal
things, such as doing community volunteer work."
Some companies might be more likely to grant a leave for education rather than just
for having fun, but others don't care.
"They just want to keep good people, and they are much more flexible than they used
to be," Jorgensen says.
Federal law mandates an allowance for some types of extended leaves. For example,
it requires that employees be given as much as 12 weeks off per year to deal with
personal or family illness. In addition, many companies offer parenting leaves of as
long as a month. But no law requires that a company provide an extended leave for the
multitude of reasons an IT worker might want one, such as to deal with job burnout,
cope with family problems, or just go mountain climbing.
In the absence of a requirement for unpaid leaves -- or even a resounding demand
from IT workers -- the sabbatical hasn't yet become a widely sought-after benefit.
Job requirements limit options
At American Century Investments, a mutual fund company in Kansas City, Mo. with
more than 420 full-time IT employees, the question of extended leave has never come up,
says Kim Wade, director of corporate human relations.
"We do not have a program that would allow for that. But no one has asked for
anything like it," Wade says.
It's the same story in Texas. "Dallas is the No. 2 technology corridor after
Silicon Valley, and we don't seem to have that kind of demand for extended time off
yet," says Dave Loeser, senior vice president of human resources at the IT outsourcing
company CompuCom Systems, in Dallas.
Still, he'd provide a leave to a valued IT person who wanted one.
"I think companies increasingly need to accommodate IT people," Loeser says.