Are Forum Sabbaticals OK?

by Ellie Byrd, Lead Sherpa

Over the years, I’ve heard this question for a variety of reasons.  There’s no one right answer and every situation is unique.  That said, here are a few thoughts to consider.

When is a Sabbatical Appropriate?

Sabbaticals are quite unusual, but they have been used successfully in several cases.  For example, someone may be required to move halfway around the world for 6 months or more, yet they want to come back to the Forum when they return.  Or someone has had surgery or a serious illness, and they can’t attend meetings for several months while they recover.  Or someone has a baby and wants to take time off (this one is a bit dangerous in spousal Forums – it can become an epidemic so it’s not typically recommended).  Again, although sabbaticals are not common and not necessarily recommended, they can serve a useful purpose if the Forum supports the situation.

How Do I Approach the Subject?

Typically, the member requesting the sabbatical (let’s call him “Scott”) would notify the Moderator of his intent to request a sabbatical.  (The Moderator should not be blindsided with something like this during the meeting.)  With the Moderator’s knowledge of the situation, Scott would come to the next meeting and share the reason why he feels a sabbatical is necessary.  Hopefully, Scott has put a lot of thought into his decision and it could be helpful for everyone to hear his thoughts.

Depending on the situation, the Moderator may want to let members know in advance that the conversation is coming.  It could be put on the agenda as a discussion point.  During the meeting, the Moderator can guide the discussion using a process such as:

  • Scott shares his thoughts.
  • Each person in the Forum shares their thoughts and feelings. All voices should be heard.
  • Determine if a vote should be taken and whether it is an open vote or a close vote. Is it unanimous or majority rule?  (Note that most votes involving Forum members must be unanimous.  If a unanimous decision cannot be reached, the decision would default to the Forum Norms or Constitution.  Most likely, this would mean that as soon as Scott has missed the maximum number of meeting absences, he’ll be removed from the Forum.)

Is it a Sign of Weak Commitment?

During the discussion, some members may wonder if the member requesting a sabbatical is truly committed to the Forum.  Again, this may depend on the circumstances regarding the request.  Indeed, a sabbatical can be an easy way out for someone who isn’t committed to the Forum.  On the flip side, it may actually be a good sign that they have requested a sabbatical rather than simply resigning from the Forum.  He or she must be getting some value from the Forum, or they would probably just leave the group.

Note that sometimes when a member feels the need to leave their Forum, it can actually be healthy for the rest of the group.  It doesn’t apply in all cases, but members who aren’t “all in” can actually bring down the rest of the Forum, and over time, that can affect the commitment level of everyone.  A Forum is only as strong as its weakest length.

Is Their Return to the Forum Guaranteed?

When someone takes a sabbatical, they are typically not guaranteed their place in the Forum upon their return.  Instead, they would request the opportunity to come back to the Forum when they are ready/able, and the Forum takes a vote as to whether the member can re-join the group.  The reason this is done is that the Forum may change while the member is out, and it may not feel comfortable to bring them back in.  Perhaps the Forum has brought in a new member and it may not feel like a good idea anymore.  Or perhaps the group dynamic has changed somewhat and it’s no longer a good fit.