Over the past 40 years, Genentech employees have taken 14,809 sabbaticals, six weeks off in which they can do whatever they like—explore new fields, old passions and roads not taken, or just relax, be outdoors and spend time with family. That adds up to just under 15 million hours employees have spent away from work, not only enriching their own lives, but often benefitting their families, communities, co-workers and people around the world.
From the time Genentech was founded in 1976, the company decided that to compete in attracting the best and brightest scientists, it had to have the appeal of an academic institution, not only publishing its research in respected journals, but offering another academic perk: the sabbatical. Time off from work, the founders realized, would give employees a chance to recharge and come back to work with more creativity and enthusiasm.
Since then, sabbaticals have become part of the Genentech culture, where every full-time employee has the opportunity to take six weeks of paid time off every six years.
Each time Art Reyes, a project manager with the Research and Early Development (gRED) group, has taken a sabbatical, he says he’s come back “refreshed,” but each of the three periods away has been very different. On his first sabbatical, he traveled to Australia, where he got engaged to his wife. Then he spent two more weeks pursuing another passion of his—marine biology—by volunteering on a research cruise with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), surveying fish populations. The NOAA research team worked six hours on and six hours off catching different fish and dissecting them to see what they were eating. NOAA Fisheries later used the data collected to set quotas to help manage fish species. “It was a way for me to do something I never got a chance to do, but have always been interested in,” says Art.
Art spent his second sabbatical at home, since it coincided with the birth of the couple’s second child. “Being able to stay at home with the kids, especially our newborn, was priceless,” he says. For his third sabbatical, now with three children, the family took a 5,000-mile road trip through the National Parks, hop-scotching around western states to see the sights in the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, the Badlands, Rocky Mountain National Park and Dinosaur National Monument. Art’s fourth sabbatical comes up in two years, and he’s already planning. “Maybe Europe,” he says.
Dorie Quejada, who does administrative support in Genentech’s Environmental Quality Control department, always wanted to become a massage therapist for oncology patients. “I want to volunteer and give back to the community,” said Dorie. “Therapeutic massage is a skill that I can share.” She found, though, that it was too stressful to work full-time and go to school four days a week for four hours each day. “I had a hard time absorbing all of the information—basic anatomy, pathology, etc. and go to work,” Dorie said. She decided to take her sabbatical to finish her program and become a certified massage therapist. “I am just so thankful for the sabbatical because I was able to accomplish something that I had wanted to do for many years.”
Dorie is now working on finishing a specialized certificate in oncology massage therapy. “This was a way for me to focus on something I want to accomplish without worrying about missing work. A cancer patient will appreciate the massages, and that will make me feel very good.”
As the former head of Genentech’s Career and Learning department, Don Kraft understood how important sabbaticals can be for personal development. He was a doctoral student in the School of Education at the University of San Francisco (USF), and had been inspired by culture and service trips he took with his Ph.D. adviser. “They bring an awareness of the need to help other people that live in desperate conditions,” he said.
Don and other USF students had decided to start the Windhorse Foundation, which partners with people in desperate need in rural Southeast Asian communities, making educational, financial and health-related support available to them. Then, on his sabbatical in 2008, Don and his fellow students traveled traveled down the Mekong River and stopped in Laos at one of the most poverty-stricken villages. “We said, ‘We've got to do something here and help these people,’” Don recalls. “That became a project that has continued through today."
For his second sabbatical, he led a culture and service trip to visit the projects and people with whom Windhorse was working. “If everyone would do one thing as a volunteer that they have some passion about, then the world would be a much better place.”
Dante Lee, director of production services in South San Francisco, has been with Genentech 18 years and has taken two sabbaticals. But it was another colleague’s sabbatical that changed his leadership perspective and opened a new door for his career.
When the head of technology at Genentech went on sabbatical, Mitra Cruz, the head of drug product operations, filled in for him. Dante filled in for Mitra, and another colleague filled in for Dante. “It was a cascading effect of sabbaticals,” said Dante. “The vice president of our site was keen on making sure that we had the right opportunities. He wanted to see us stretch ourselves. It wasn't easy, but it was nice to be challenged, to learn something new and do something different.”
Dante was able to have hands-on experience in areas of drug product operations, where he hadn’t worked directly before. As plans for the site continued to evolve, Dante used his new knowledge and perspectives to help support operations through its transitions.
Dante continues to encourage his staff to stretch their wings. When Mitra goes on sabbatical this year, Dante will have the associate director of plant scheduling step in for her. “He has an interest in drug product operations, but has never worked in it. I am interested in making sure that my employees get all the development opportunities they can, and this is a great opportunity and one of the significant benefits of working in production in South San Francisco.”