Citizens Bank sabbatical program gives employees time off for good behavior

We’ve all seen and heard typical bank advertisements.  

A recent one for Citizens Bank, complete with dramatic, patriotic music, claims, “It’s simple. Good banking is good citizenship. Good citizenship is good business. That is the charter of a good bank.” Dan Fitzpatrick, president of Citizens Bank, wants his ads to be more than background noise.

“We can’t run these commercials that say ‘good banking is good citizenship’ if we don’t do things like run sabbatical programs,” said Fitzpatrick. “We take it really seriously.” He’s referring to Citizens’ Community Service Sabbatical Program. Each year, since 1994, the bank selects around eight of its employees to take three months off to work at a nonprofit full-time. The Society for Human Resources says around 15 percent of companies in the U.S. offer unpaid sabbaticals. But Citizen’s has a nice twist: volunteers get to keep their bank salaries and benefits. Kevin Ferroni is the 100th employee to take the sabbatical. He’s been volunteering at Mighty Writers, a Philadelphia after-school literacy program. He tutors kids in spelling, launched a direct-mail campaign, and even pitched in at a recent bake sale. “It was a little bit of an adjustment for me,” he said with a laugh, “because I’m used to working banker’s hours, usually 8 a.m. until 6 p.m.” He’s also used to wearing a suit. But while the work is different, Ferroni says that doesn’t make it easy. “I think it’s difficult for people to realize how much work goes into running a nonprofit group and how in-depth they have to be,” Ferroni said. “They have to have the right people in place, the right volunteers and the right mentors.”

And do a lot more with a lot less than, say, a bank.

As Ferroni returns to Citizens, he says he’ll stay on at Might Writers — part-time and unpaid — as a mentor.

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