Embrace Growth and Rejuvenation

The Power of Work Sabbatical Programs

In today’s fast-paced and demanding work environment, finding a balance between personal growth and professional aspirations can be challenging. Thankfully, organizations are increasingly recognizing the value of sabbatical leave, providing employees with an extended period of time to step away from their professional responsibilities and embark on a transformative journey of renewal, growth, and exploration. In this blog post, we will delve into the concept of sabbatical leave, what makes it different from other types of leave, how to create a program, its benefits, and how to make the most of this unique opportunity.

June 2023

Lauren Hunter

Research Services Manager

Understanding Sabbatical Leave

Sabbatical leave, often known as a career break or extended leave, is a planned and approved period during which an employee takes a break from their regular work duties. Unlike traditional vacations, sabbaticals are longer-term and can often last between a few weeks to several months and are designed to allow individuals to focus on personal development, pursue passions, engage in learning experiences, or simply take a well-deserved break. More employers are offering sabbatical leave in 2023, but it’s essential to consider several factors before providing this unique benefit. Employers haven’t widely offered sabbaticals in the past. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), in 2019, only 5 percent of employers offered paid sabbatical leave, while 11 percent provided unpaid sabbatical leave. However, with flexibility becoming increasingly crucial in the workplace, more employers are considering how a sabbatical program might benefit recruiting and retention efforts. According to a study by Gallup, only 32 percent of employees were engaged in their work in 2022, while 18 percent were actively disengaged. As employee engagement continues to decline, employers are looking for new ways to attract and retain top talent—and today, sabbaticals are becoming more common.

What is A Sabbatical Program?

No federal or state laws regulate sabbatical time, so employers implement their own policies, and employees have the freedom to choose how they use their time. This extended time away is often earned after an employee has worked for the company for a set number of years. Their commitment earns them time away without worrying about job loss. For example, Nike offers a five-week paid sabbatical after ten years at the company, while Adobe offers a four-week sabbatical after five years. Sabbatical leave is separate from other types of leave, such as family and medical leave (FMLA) or general paid time off (PTO).

A sabbatical is longer than standard PTO and earned over a longer amount of time. In 2023, the average American receives 11 days of PTO per year. Employers have different accrual rates and policies around usage and rollover, but when employees use that time, they tend to spread it out. On the other hand, sabbatical time is only earned after several years of working at a company. In order to earn this longer break, most companies require employees to have a minimum of five years of service. Some companies offer paid sabbaticals, and others offer unpaid, with the average time away being four weeks. Employees who have worked for the company longer often have the opportunity to earn more time away or more sabbaticals

If you choose to offer extended time off as a benefit to employees, it’s best to establish a sabbatical program with formal policies and guidelines in place. Establishing a sabbatical program helps set expectations, eliminate confusion, and track the success of the new benefit.

As part of establishing a formal program, you can support employees when they’re ready to plan a sabbatical. This might include checklists to prepare for their time off, training for their managers, or books and resources about sabbaticals.

What should you consider when offering sabbatical leave?

Sabbatical leave can be a great benefit, but like any other benefit you offer, it’s essential to consider how it aligns with your organization’s strategic priorities. Before you consider implementing sabbatical leave at your company, you might consider the following:

  • What are your main objectives, and what metrics will you use to track success
  • How will you handle sabbaticals for current employees with several years of service
  • Will it be paid or unpaid—and what are the related financial implications
  • How much time will you offer, and after how many years of service
  • What channels will you use to communicate the policy
  • How will you ensure business objectives are met during sabbatical leaves

What Benefits Do You and Your Employees Get from A Sabbatical Program?

Employees on sabbatical leave can benefit in many ways from the opportunity to step away from work for an extended period of time. Some of these benefits are:

  • Renewed Energy and Inspiration: Sabbatical leave offers individuals the opportunity to disconnect from the daily grind, recharge their batteries, and gain a fresh perspective. Taking a break from work can help alleviate burnout; by allowing individuals to focus on their well-being, sabbaticals promote mental and emotional rejuvenation, enabling employees to return to their jobs with renewed energy, creativity, and motivation.
  • Personal Growth and Development: During sabbatical leave, individuals can invest time in personal growth and development. They can explore new interests, acquire new skills, or pursue further education. Whether learning a new language, engaging in volunteer work, or following a passion project, sabbaticals provide a conducive environment for self-discovery and growth.
  • Enhanced Work-Life Balance: Sabbatical leave allows individuals to achieve a better work-life balance. It provides the opportunity to focus on personal relationships, spend time with family, or simply indulge in activities that bring joy and fulfillment. Individuals can return to work with a renewed sense of purpose and perspective by prioritizing their well-being.
  • Career Reflection and Exploration: Work sabbaticals allow individuals to reflect on their career paths and long-term goals. They provide an opportunity to explore different interests and passions and potentially shift professional direction. Whether starting a new business, pursuing advanced education, or taking on a creative endeavor, sabbaticals can ignite fresh perspectives and lead to exciting career opportunities.

Not only do your employees experience benefits from sabbatical programs, but you do too! Since sabbatical leave is earned over time, this benefit can help retain engaged employees. It’s more than an extra few days of PTO per year or a slight salary increase. A sabbatical is something long-term employees can look forward to earning. By offering these programs, you can foster a sense of loyalty and commitment among employees. When individuals feel supported in their personal growth and work-life balance, they are more likely to remain dedicated to the organization in the long term. They can also increase your employee’s productivity and creativity upon return. By allowing employees to step away from their routines, they can gain new perspectives and insights that can be applied to their work. This fresh thinking can lead to innovative solutions and improved problem-solving abilities. Another benefit for you and your company is that sabbatical programs can serve as a means of attracting top talent. In today’s competitive job market, companies that offer work sabbaticals have a competitive edge in attracting and retaining top talent. Sabbatical programs are seen as a valuable perk, demonstrating that the organization values employee well-being and personal development.

Let’s stop for a second and address something: this type of program is not for every company. However, if you choose to offer this unique benefit to your employees, you’ll need to ensure your company culture supports it. Here are a few actions you might take to ensure these extended breaks are favorable for your employees and your organization.

  • Provide employees with any necessary information before their leave
  • Create a plan to support employees as they return
  • Advertise the benefit and why your company has elected to offer it
  • Train managers and HR leaders so their roles in supporting this benefit are clear
  • Use internal communication channels to share employee sabbatical stories

Work sabbatical programs have emerged as a powerful tool for both individuals and companies seeking personal and professional growth. Sabbatical leave offers a unique opportunity for individuals to break free from the routine, invest in personal development, and gain a fresh perspective. By embracing sabbatical leave, individuals can return to their professional lives with renewed energy, enhanced skills, and a more profound sense of purpose. Meanwhile, organizations can foster loyalty, creativity, and productivity by allowing employees to take a break from their regular work responsibilities. Whether you are offering paid or unpaid leave, there will be financial implications you need to prepare for. Regarding administration, you must work closely with your human resources teams to ensure everything is accurately documented. Ultimately, each organization must consider how this benefit aligns with other strategic priorities and larger organizational goals.

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