The Germans have a word for everything – usually a long, hard-to-pronounce word. Now the country that gave us Götterdämmerungschadenfreude, and Fahrvergnügen brings us . . . “bildungsurlaub.” The ungainly word roughly translates as “training vacation” — and captures a concept that seems worth emulating or at least taking seriously.

German law entitles workers to six weeks of paid vacation. But according to a recent story in the Wall Street Journal, it also provides for — I just love saying it — a bildungsurlaub, five paid days off per year to participate in an approved training course.

As the Journal explains:

Workers could take a Chinese course in Beijing or enroll in a computer course in a seaside town. Training doesn’t have to be directly connected to their job, as long as it is approved by the state.

Approved programs . . . include visits to historical sites such as the Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald or tours of underground bunkers in Berlin. Social volunteering courses, like training to become a life coach, are other options. It is hoped that employers, employees and society will profit from the knowledge and experience gained on training leave.

Employers can say “nein” to requests, and employees must foot the bill themselves — both of which might explain why very few workers actually participate. But I can’t help thinking this notion — or some variation of it — is a powerful idea.

What do you think? Is this a practice more individuals and organizations should consider?  Would a bildungsurlaub fit into your Weltanschauung?

20 Responses to “Word of the day: Bildungsurlaub”

  1. We offered a Bildungsurlaub (is it a noun?) in fall of 2010 for an 11 week horticultural program for two employees. We paid for the course, adjusted their hours to accommodate the class times, paid them a reduced hourly rate for the actual class time, AND promised a raise upon completion with a B or better. It worked! They passed, learned something, AND became more productive employees. 2011 was a tough year, so we didn’t offer a Bildungsurlaub, but now that I read your article, I think it is time to Bildungsurlaub again…oops I think I made it a verb. It is a FUN word!

  2. tammy says:

    Our collective bargaining has put in place ‘professional development’ leave. It isn’t as wide open as the German model as it is most often only approved for formal education like university classes or workshops. I have been lucky enough to do this for the last few years and take the time to complete compressed classes toward my master’s degree during the spring/summer sessions. I have had to cover tuition but the time in lieu is well worth the cost of tuition. It’s great to have a new word for it.

  3. Lloyd says:

    What a great initiative! I work at ING here in the Netherlands and they provide something similar.

    We all get a so-called “employability budget” of €1,200 ($1,450) every three years. This is a no-strings-attached budget for taking any training course we want, provided it helps us develop towards our next job.

    It doesn’t have to be related to our current position, either: one colleague of mine has a wife who builds custom furniture… he took a woodworking course so that he could help her expand the business if he decided to leave the bank.

    I’ve only been here two years and haven’t yet found a course to take. I need to decide soon. Any ideas?

  4. Tammy Redmon says:

    Love learning new words! And I really like the concept too. When I was on a communications Team for the State of Washington several years back now, we encouraged people to take time to explore personal growth opportunities. Clearly the statistics showed how that raised the efficacy of the team. so while too had a (brief) time to take advantage of “bildungsurlaub,” many did not. Interestingly people often felt if they did their job would be at risk – merely because they weren’t around to be in the “know.” Perhaps more interesting – yet not surprising – it wasn’t until the state paid for the classes and the time off in full before people really took advantage. Again the program was rather short lived and ran out of funding even quicker.

  5. Jérôme Thureau says:

    I’m french and we have a similar system for employees. It’d called a “DIF” (individual right for training). Every employee get a 20 hours credit per year (limited to 120 hours).
    The employer pays 50% of the salary during the training. According to recent studies, less than 20% of employees use it…
    The system looks good, but it seems that it’s not a habit yet…

    • Grant Gudgel says:

      I’m American but have lived in France for years working in Executive Education. I agree with Jérôme that the French system looks good but doesn’t see enough use.

      In addition to the DIF, the French also have the “CIF” Congé Individuel de Formation (Individual Training Leave).

      CIF basically allows people to take extended, un-paid, periods of leave – 6 months or more – for more formal education. I had a couple of people in my MBA (done in France) on CIF who subsequently returned to their former companies.

      Unfortunately, like the DIF mentioned by Jérôme, most CIF requests are turned down either by the employer or the government agency who administers the CIF.

      Great ideas, but they could certainly see a bit more use!

  6. It’s not quite a bildungsurlaub but every employee from newest graduate intake to MD at MediaCom Edinburgh is entitled to one paid inspiration day per year to go and do something more interesting instead. All we ask is that they come back and tell the business what they learnt on their day away from the office. We also used to offer a small fund to every employee to take extra-curricular training in anything that interested them but, much like your German example, it’s been discontinued for lack of take up.

  7. I love this notion but what happens with those who, like me and many of my friends, work for themselves? I wonder if they also get the sanctioned 6 weeks paid vacation and the option for Bildungsurlaub? Just curious…

  8. I work for myself, which is of course, an end- to -end Bildungsurlaub , 365 days of unpaid learning holiday. My office is opposite our State (New South Wales Australia) Parliament building and I often wish that our Parliamentarians (who hardly work full-time) were obliged to take study leave in other countries; e.g. in the USA to study urban planning in cities with a success record or Scandinavia to look at medical systems. It’s a good life here but can be somewhat insular.

  9. Joe says:

    Brian Kurth, author of “Test Drive your Dream Job,” suggests people try a similar concept. He offers a great services through his company, Vocation Vacations!

  10. Tom Hood says:

    Dan,

    Great post. Fortunately, the CPA Profession has a culture of continuous learning that started in the late 1970’s and mandated 40 hours of continuing professional education (CPE) every year. Many CPA Firms and companies go way beyond this.

    I believe we are at a “strategic inflection point” in our profession as the current 40 hours is necessary just to keep up with changing accounting standards and tax laws, we could use an additional 20+ to acquire what we call “success skills” like this identified by the CPA Horizons 2025 project – communications, leadership, collaboration, synthesis, and technology skills.

    In this rapidly changing and ever more complex world we say the you L > C (squared) – your rate of learning must be greater than the rate of change in your industry and your competition.

    I think we all need to take that “learning vacation”.

  11. Niklas Lindbom says:

    There are other “versions” of this. One of which may seem is not very related, but I say it is! And, contrary to what many people outside of Sweden think, it does not hamper productivity, neither at individual level, nor at national. Rather the opposite (just look at how Sweden’s finances are doing compared to other comparable countries).

    It is called parental leave, and it gives the parents of a newborn child in Sweden a total of 480 days to share between them at 80% of their respective salary, up until the day the child turns eight. (60 days each are earmarked, the other 360 days they may share as the will). This is paid by the state and many companies also add an extra ten percent units to add up to 90% of the salary.

    Many parents take this as an opportunity to re-think what they really want in life. And most employers actually encourage this, as the employees that come back to the same workplace/employer (most) are more energized and often have thought of new ideas to bring in to the workplace. And during this time the employers can also take on new talents or work rotate until the parent comes back.

    • Niklas Lindbom says:

      Oh, and to add to the linguistic confusion, “parental leave” translates to “föräldraledighet” in Swedish.

      [foehrehldra-lehdigheht], sort of. 🙂

  12. Amy says:

    I think it’s a great idea. My company is small (in U.S.), but we try to make sure each employee gets to attend at least one conference or class each year.

    There is always more to learn, and people always come back energized and motivated!

    If I didn’t have to use vacation time, I would definitely consider more training/learning each year.

  13. Dale Halvorson says:

    For the last three years I have done this on my own. I live in the states but have tried to demonstrate that there are free conferences that would enhance my performance. I’ve asked for as little as $300 to cover airfare and been denied.

    I still go ahead and take the trips and comsume the information. It’s amazing what is out there for the taking. I’ve also been able to bring back a lot of the learning and share with others in the organization.

    We have two choices is life. We can sit around and wait to be acted upon – or we can act. I choose to act.

    Thanks Dan for giving me a word to describe my craxy.

    Dale

  14. Rob Carty says:

    Love it. The literal translation is “educational vacation.” As a student of German in high school, my favorite word mash-up was Fremdsprachenkorrespondentin. That’s a foreign language correspondent (or back in the day, a secretary with foreign language skills as described by my textbook).

  15. What a wonderful concept and approach, Dan!

    As we OPEN up learning – at work – we need to find ways of DESIGNING processes that incentive the learning, curiosity and engagement of workers in their overall learning. Everyone Wins!

  16. In Austria we haven something called “Bildungskarenz”. The basic concept is similar, but on a much larget scale, I would say.

    You can go on educational vacation for up to a whole year!!! You can go on a kind of (paid) sabbatical or educational leave. The employer keeps your job and you get paid by the state (not full salary but a bit more than half of your last salary).

  17. Craig Yetter says:

    Hi everyone. Our company is piloting something like this across the globe – reaching beyond the governmentally mandated ones. We find that each country is very different in approach and thinking! Are there other countries besides, NL, France, Germany, Austria, and Belgium that have similar governmentally mandated programmes? Anyone have experience on how far the concept gets ‘stretched’ (surfing lessons?). We’ve also struggled with tax laws. Anyone else who has advise, guidance on this would love to hear from them.

  18. Andreas says:

    Sadly, the German not really appreciate what they have. Very few ever take such a “Bildungsurlaub”.

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