The NBA's sabbatical program gives employees a chance to recharge and others a chance to shine 

  • In 2015, the NBA's head of human resources, Eric Hutcherson, and Commissioner Adam Silver decided to roll out an unusual perk for employees: sabbaticals.
  • On top of employees' annual vacation, those who have worked at the league for 10 years get four weeks off, fully paid; at 20 years, they get eight weeks off.
  • In the past three years, more than 100 employees at the league office have taken a sabbatical.

On and off the court, the NBA is a demanding business.

The 82-game season has evolved into a year-round product with the WNBA, Gatorade League, 2K League, Summer League, the draft, free agency and training camp. Not to mention international tournaments, camps across the globe and the Olympics — the list goes on. That's why in 2015, the league's head of human resources, Eric Hutcherson, and Commissioner Adam Silver decided to roll out an unusual perk: sabbaticals.

Employees who worked at the league for 10 years get four weeks off, fully paid, and their job is waiting for them when they return. At 20 years with the league, they get eight weeks off. That's on top of their annual vacation.

The program has has become a popular perk and has been beneficial for employees, who are taking a break, as well as those back at the office, where they have found a chance to show new leadership skills.

"I call working at the league as a way of life. You have to love it, be part of it and accept it as a way of life," said Hutcherson. "But at the 10-year point, it's a good time to believe that now is the time to recharge, reinvigorate, recommit and re-decide."

The sabbatical is designed to give employees time to recharge their batteries
Source: Sharon De Lima | NBA
The sabbatical is designed to give employees time to recharge their batteries

The idea came about after Silver issued a challenge, Hutcherson said.

"When I interviewed with Adam, he said 'I want this place to be different. I want the organization to be engaged, I want people to be excited. I want this to be a place where everybody wants to be'," said Hutcherson.

In the past three years, more than 100 employees at the league office have taken a sabbatical.

"There was a time when people were reluctant to take it, now people are looking forward and planning for it," said Hutcherson.

Sabbaticals can come in all forms. For some, it's meant quality family time. For others, it's a chance to go on the trip of a lifetime. For everyone, it's a rare chance to turn off their phones and escape the daily grind.

"I put up an out of office, it was probably the first time I did that," said Kerry Tatlock, the NBA's senior vice president of global marketing partnerships.

Kerry Tatlock and her family went to Europe as part of her sabbatical
Source: Kerry Tatlock | NBA
Kerry Tatlock and her family went to Europe as part of her sabbatical

Tatlock and her family went to Europe for three weeks, visiting cultural sites in several countries. But the final week of her sabbatical was much more low key, in Western Massachusetts.

"Then I indulged in doing the camp pick up and drop off, making lunches, cooking dinners, being there every night for bedtime, and it was as extraordinary as the first part," Tatlock said.

Tatlock, who has spearheaded many of the NBA's biggest sponsorship deals, said the time not only gave her batteries a recharge, but it gave others at the company the chance to step up and help in new ways.

"My colleagues stepped in to carry the workload and not reach out to me, which to this day I truly appreciate," Tatlock said.

Nike, McDonald's and Intel are just some of the major companies offering sabbatical programs, but the National Basketball Association is the first professional sports organization to do so.

"The market is so tight for good candidates — people are really focused on retaining, especially their tenured employees," said Dawn Fay, a district president at staffing agency Robert Half.

Hutcherson said sabbaticals have benefited the company as well, helping new leaders emerge, leading to innovation and fresh ideas.

"To be a little bit blunt, if this place can't survive without you for four weeks, we are in a world of hurt," he added.