Editor's note: this story was co-written by Erin Lloyd and Sarah Reed.
Erin Lloyd piloted the foundation’s new sabbatical leave policy in fall 2022. We shared details of the policy and our reasons for adopting it in a previous post. In this post, Erin reflects on her time away, and the rest of the staff team shares what they learned from taking on new skills and responsibilities.
Erin’s original plans for her time away were focused on family, and rejuvenation and relaxation through time outdoors in Maine’s many beautiful wild spaces. Plans were made, expectations were high! However, as sometimes happens in life, the best laid plans can go awry. Upon returning from the fall retreat, Erin injured her back and ultimately spent her sabbatical time beginning her recovery. As someone whose method of relaxation and mental rest often centers on activities like running, this presented some new challenges in addition to the obvious ones created by an injury.
As a network of environmental leaders, we recognize the importance of adaptability - for individuals as well as ecosystems. In order to move forward, we sometimes have to accept and adapt to the need to be still (as difficult as that can be), to heal well for the remaining journey ahead. What new mechanisms do we need in order to adapt to any given situation that confronts us? In Erin’s case, rather than lacing up the running shoes, she needed to build new practices in her daily life that help to keep a calm mind and a clear head. Erin has said, “If each of us is the sum of our experiences, it is important to recognize that even the setbacks contribute to who we are. If we can look back and be proud that we handled them with as much humor, adaptability and flexibility as we could muster, then we’ve won the day.” Though her time away did not unfold in any way as expected, it was indeed a time of personal growth that would have been much harder to navigate without an uninterrupted time-out from work, which this sabbatical provided.
From the staff perspective, the team was pleased to support Erin’s sabbatical and promote a culture of rest within the foundation. Overall, the time passed quickly and work progressed smoothly. Erin’s leave was thoughtfully timed in an effort to minimize impacts on the staff and network. We started planning early, with a clear division of responsibilities, and Erin provided thorough documentation for staff taking on new tasks. We lowered our workloads where necessary, and we made good decisions about what not to do. The staff enjoyed the support of the board and network, and we communicated to manage expectations about our response times and workloads. Staff valued the opportunities to learn more about the programs Erin manages and to get to know more fellows.
We also learned some lessons about changes we would recommend for future sabbaticals. We would notify the Switzer Network and external partners earlier, to reduce the number of messages and requests we receive during the transition. In addition to providing strong written documentation, we would emphasize having the departing staff member train others on new tasks. Where possible, we would avoid launching new projects during a sabbatical leave. We would encourage the sabbatical-taker to spend time planning how they will use their time away and be intentional about how much contact they will have with the foundation. (We recommend minimizing contact to enjoy a complete break!) Finally, we realized it is equally important to prepare carefully for the weeks preceding and following the return from sabbatical leave as it is to plan for the time away.
We adopted the new sabbatical leave policy as part of our effort to ensure the foundation’s commitment to equity and justice is reflected throughout our programs and operations; we believed that a benefit that was previously available only to the Executive Director should be made available to all long-term employees. As we implemented the policy for the first time, we saw how it also reflected the foundation’s values for collaboration and innovation. Covering the responsibilities of one member of our small team required extra commitment and effort, not only from staff, but also from the FAC members and other fellows who have taken on leadership roles in the foundation’s programs. For staff, learning how to do new tasks required creativity and problem-solving that generated new approaches that we will carry forward into future years. In sum, the collaboration, adaptability and innovation we all emphasized during Erin’s leave will strengthen the Switzer Network, build the staff’s capacity, and help us plan even better for the next sabbatical.