CEO Sabbaticals Get Popular

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Andy Roquet Photo
Senior Executive Benefits Specialist
CUNA Mutual Group

4 minutes

Executives and boards are revisiting their strategic approaches to retaining key talent.

From credit union consolidation to lingering “Great Resignation” trends, several market realities are pushing leadership continuity toward the top of the list of credit union priorities. Add to those realities inclusion of succession planning in the National Credit Union Administration’s 2023 supervisory priorities, and it’s easy to understand why executives and boards are revisiting their strategic approaches to retaining key talent. 

Even the most comprehensive succession plans still can be disrupted by an unanticipated resignation. Surprises in the realm of human capital are happening to a much greater degree and seemingly for a particular reason. Deloitte found around 70% of C-suite executives were seriously considering quitting their jobs when they polled them in 2022. The reason? To find a job that better supports their well-being.

Anecdotally, non-profits seem to have been disproportionately hit by CEO departures. This may be due to feelings of burnout following a particularly rough three years with challenges ranging from tough calls on constituent relief programs to balancing their own fears of COVID-19. 

Time Away Avoids Burnout, Builds Skill Sets

To create a working environment more conducive to the long-term well-being of their executives, credit unions are experimenting with a series of new benefits—among them, sabbaticals. 

An extended time away from work for executives to study, travel or pursue another opportunity for personal growth, sabbaticals are becoming more popular across many industries, including financial services. There remains, however, an opportunity to leverage the benefit for competitive differentiation. According to this article from SHRM, just 5% of companies offer a paid sabbatical program today. 

A few of the executive-retention benefits of a paid sabbatical program include:

  • Avoids burnout
  • Opens executive’s mind to new possibilities
  • Allows for fine-tuning or development of a new skill set
  • Empowers attainment of personal goals

Two Key Strategies for Success With Sabbaticals

Understandably, credit unions may be nervous about bidding farewell to a mission-critical leader, even if only temporarily. Two strategies may ease some of the anxiety:

  1. Employ the assistance of an on-demand executive. The emergence of another workplace trend, the on-demand executive, may help credit unions weather the absence of a C-suite executive. Also known as the “gig executive” or the “fractional executive,” these individuals are meeting a range of human capital needs from filling in for those on leave to serving as advisors or coaches to keep succession plans on track. With highly competent and skilled temporary help, more credit unions can say yes to a sabbatical 
  2. Incentivize the executive’s return with a comprehensive benefits package. A good executive benefits package can make or break the success of a paid leave program. When paired with a sabbatical offering, a deferred compensation plan with a refundable option, such as a 457(f), may even help executives finance their adventures. 

Importantly, these packages can also motivate the executive to return after their sabbatical to take full advantage of the credit union’s investment in their eventual retirement. 

Fulfilled and Focused Leaders for the Future

Credit union CEOs devote so much energy to ensuring the success of their members and employees. It’s a job full of purpose, but not without pain. Credit unions that take a strategic approach to reenergizing their CEOs set their organizations up for a future with fulfilled and focused leadership, ready to take on the challenges of a fast-changing financial world.

Andy Roquet is senior executive benefits specialist for CUNA Mutual Group Executive Benefit Solutions, a CUESolutions provider, with more than three decades of service to credit union leaders. 

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