Let's take three months off

By Ruby Derrick | 20 May 2024
Ayaan Mohamud.

The idea of taking several months off might be seen scary to an industry where briefs are done at such breakneck speed that being time poor is normal.

However, some insiders believe that encouraging sabbaticals is a good strategy to better retain and reinvigorate the best people.

impact.com's regional vice president of marketing Ayaan Mohamud has returned from a three month sabbatical in Columbia, Peru, Argentina, Antarctica and Brazil, which reinforced the importance of human connection for her.

Sabbaticals are a rare occurrence in the media industry, Virginia Scully, formerly managing partner, people, at independent media agency Hatched, now at her consultancy Human Kind Collective told AdNews.

This is largely driven by business competitiveness and resourcing restraints. 

"Sabbaticals are a good idea. Taking time out for development and perspective will reinvigorate employees and renew thinking and ideas which can only be a good thing," Scully says.

“Not sure if I'm alone but the term sabbatical feels uncommon and almost outdated given the short-term demands, and the need to be nimble and responsive. It's like we've lost sight of the importance of a significant break and people are more likely to leave jobs and break in between."

Long service leave is also designed to reward longer-term tenure with a break and continued salary - given its the law this is still happening, Scully says.

"A smooth transition requires longer-term planning (ie replacement role), how will it be communicated to clients and staff, what impacts will this have and a handover period at the beginning and end, for instance."

From Scully’s experience in the media industry - true sabbaticals, where the time away is for development or personal experience and often unpaid, are rare. 

“Its common for clients to get attached to individuals and relationships  - which some might argue is a risk to change personnel for a specified period.

“It takes time and proper planning to do well and we are currently a shorter term and time-poor industry. Smarter, energy-focused agencies could benefit from bringing it back in a more modern context - to retain and reinvigorate their best people.”

For Mohamud, she’d intended to take this break years ago. She moved to Australia back in 2015 and planned to work for a little while before taking off for six months. 

“It was a long time coming. It unexpectedly took me seven years to become a permanent resident here (long story!).”

After five years in the role, it was time for Mohamud to take a few months out to recharge and look at life through a non-marketing lens.

When she finally gained residency, not only was there a global pandemic but she was immersed in her role at impact.com. She joined in 2019 to set up the marketing function across APAC.

"By mid-2023, we had a 9-strong marketing team across Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and Greater China. I realised that it would now be possible for me to step out for a few months and fulfill my original ambition – provided HR and my boss agreed" Mohamud says.

Mohamud’s purpose for taking a sabbatical remained the same as it was when planned to do it eight years ago - she loves exploring the world and immersing herself in different cultures to open her eyes to new ways of thinking.

She’s loved her time at impact.com, but was surprised at how much she enjoyed challenging herself mentally and physically by being outside her comfort zone.

“I’ve always loved the sun and the beach but the most memorable parts of my trip were in the mountains and the cold, doing things I’d never done before such as climbing glaciers in Patagonia, a five-day trek to Machu Picchu and a last minute cruise to the icy wilderness of Antarctica,” Mohamud says.

“The trip also taught me the value of embracing the unpredictable. I’m usually very organised and love planning ahead but on this trip things constantly changed so I learned to enjoy not knowing what was next.”

For Mohamud, the benefits of her time off were immense. There were many, even beginning before she jetted off.

As impact.com’s first APAC marketer, she’d been on a continuous path of fast and furious growth. 

“It was a case of building the plane whilst flying it, without ever coming into land. This meant the emphasis was on strategic execution and growth versus process and documentation. 

“Knowing I was about to step out for three months meant I was forced to spend time synthesising my experience to develop an APAC marketing playbook so my team had clear guidelines and processes to follow while I was away.”

This empowered the team to make decisions without her and has driven a positive change for the partnership automation platform.

“I’d often get into the weeds of many decisions and my sabbatical has broken that habit.”

It’s made Mohamud realise that after five years of being in the thick of everything, her strategic insights, creative ideas and strong relationship-building skills are now of more value.

She’s also much more intentional as to how she spends my time and what meetings she need to be a part of.

“The trip further reinforced the importance of human connection and how this builds trust and loyalty. I’ve realised that I need to spend more time with my team across APAC versus defaulting to video calls. I’m also excited to spend time in market connecting with customers and partners again,” she says.

Mohamud says it served as a working example to the team about living its company values and operating principles. 

Her manager, Adam Furness, was able to advocate internally for her sabbatical as she’d consistently demonstrated all six values of the company.

“Trust had been built over the years that gave him the confidence my team would take ownership and get the right stuff done in my absence.

“Equally, it has made me even more determined to live by these values every day as I’m truly appreciative to work for a company that has empowered me to live my South American sabbatical dream.”

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