• Syverson Strege’s Employee Sabbatical Benefit Provides Time to Rest and Refocus

    by Jason Gunkel CFP® CFA CAP® Chief Investment Officer | August 28, 2023

    This summer I was fortunate to take advantage of a new company benefit we are rolling out this year allowing employees to take a paid sabbatical once they achieve specific milestone anniversaries with Syverson Strege. For every five-year work anniversary, employees can take four to six weeks off work based on their years of service. Somehow, I have been with the company for 19 years (I started when I was 10) so I had the seniority to be one of the first to try it. The only rule is that you must completely unplug from work (including emails) and then you can spend the time in any way that you wish.

    Syverson Strege has always put an emphasis on work-life balance and the health of our employees, but according to the Society of Human Resource Management, only 4 percent of companies offer a paid sabbatical program. There are many potential benefits of a sabbatical program, including employees feeling rejuvenated and returning with renewed focus, finding inspiration and ways to improve the business, focusing on personal and professional goals, employee retention, and opportunities for younger employees to grow in their roles while the more experienced employees are away.

    Because I am a planner by occupation, I planned out my sabbatical a few months prior. After some contemplation, I decided to travel for three out of the six weeks, including a trip with my wife, a trip with the family, and a guys’ trip with a friend. My wife is a teacher so with her summers free it made sense to take the sabbatical during that time so that we could travel and spend more time together.

    The first week of sabbatical got off to a bit of a rocky start. My wife had training for work, so I spent most of the week babysitting our three kids (my wife has corrected me that it is not babysitting if they are your own kids). While I love our children, I am not used to entertaining all three at the same time while making sure our baby doesn’t injure herself on my watch. I was about ready to call work and make them cancel my sabbatical, so I had no choice but to return! Luckily, my wife returned to being the primary caregiver for myself and the kids and things got much better after that.

    My first trip was with my wife to the Oregon coast. This was our first trip in a long time without the kids and the first time leaving our 1-year-old. We were gone about a week since we figured that was about the longest time that we could trust my parents to keep the kids alive. We really didn’t know what to do with ourselves without the kids and we spent the first couple days catching up on sleep! We had a lovely time driving down Highway 101 and staying in some quaint beach towns. We learned that the Pacific coast is very beautiful but not meant for swimming in the cold water or laying on the windy beach. We also learned not to take a wine tour if we are the only people on it besides the owners of the wineries. There is too much pressure to buy wine which was an expensive lesson that we will be drinking for months!

    Our second trip was taking the whole family to Clearwater Beach, Florida. I have traveled to that area over the last few years to visit clients and realized that it would be a good place to take the family. We rented a condo that had a great location with a waterpark on site, was a short walk to the ocean, and had a deck with a nice view of the bay. While our baby didn’t like the airplane rides and that made for some long flights, she decided that she would sleep for a change once we got there, which made the trip much more enjoyable!

    The final trip was meant for more rest and relaxation in the mountains. My coworker and friend, Wayne, decided that we couldn’t be away from each other for six weeks, so we took the trip together. We both wanted to spend time in nature and Wayne was interested in backpacking and tent camping. My only requirements were a nice bed and cocktail in the evening, so we compromised. We took a guided trip through the Canadian Rockies from Banff to Jasper where two young ladies (much stronger and braver than us) took care of our transportation, food and lodging. We hiked, biked and rafted through the mountains and it was the perfect mix of adventure and relaxation. We traveled with a diverse group of about 10 strangers from across the country and by the end of the week there were hugs and tears that we were leaving each other. I travelled to Banff as a kid and thought it was the most beautiful place in the world and this trip did not change my mind!

    My time in the mountains really made me feel the sabbatical was a success in a few ways:

    • I was able to get rejuvenated and spend some time resetting my personal and professional goals.
    • Without my normal distractions, I could think more clearly about what I want to accomplish at home and at work.
    • I read a book that I would highly recommend called “The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry” by John Mark Comer which is about ways to slow down and stay emotionally and spiritually healthy in the middle of the busyness of the modern world.

    Getting into a rhythm of a daily quiet time, weekly sabbatical, and periods of longer rest like this extended sabbatical are important to reduce stress and stay focused on what is most important.

    Like the famous poet Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”


    Jason Gunkel CFP® CFA CAP® Chief Investment Officer
    Jason Gunkel, CFP®, CFA, CAP® has been with Syverson Strege since 2004 when he started as a college intern and worked his way into his current roles as Chief Investment Officer and Financial Planner. He spent a short time at Principal Global Investors before realizing that his passion is working directly with individuals and families to help them achieve their goals. He leads the Investment Committee where he helps design and monitor the firm’s investment strategies. Jason received a bachelor's degree in finance and accounting from Drake University and is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ practitioner and has earned the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA®) designation. Jason has a special interest in charitable giving strategies and has completed the Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy (CAP®) program.

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