More than half of workers experienced symptoms of burnout in the past year, according to recent polling. Many employees desperately need a break, and a couple weeks at the beach won’t cut it. A few months away from work and a chance to pursue personal projects might do the trick. That’s why an increasing number of forward-thinking companies are offering sabbatical leave as an employee benefit.
What is Sabbatical Leave?
Sabbatical leave gives employees the opportunity to step away from the workplace for an extended period of time, while retaining their position. The concept of a sabbatical originated in biblical times, when those who worked in the fields took a year-long break every 7 years. ‘Sabbaticals’ of 6 months or a year have traditionally been available to university faculty, researched and medical professionals, but can give long-term employees in any industry a chance to pursue their passions outside of work before returning refreshed and re-energized.
Employees take sabbaticals for many reasons, including completing an advanced degree or specialized training, carrying out a community service project, taking an extended trip, or, in general, using the time to “reboot” a career and rebalance priorities. Some companies ask for details on why a sabbatical is being requested and others do not. Many employers grant sabbatical leave at certain milestones, for instance every 5 or 10 years of employment, or based on an application process.
The Benefits of a Sabbatical Policy
Sabbatical leave can often benefit both the employee and the employer. Employers who offer sabbaticals give their valued, long-term leaders an opportunity to come back to the job with a new perspective and a deeper commitment to a company that has demonstrated a concern for their work/life balance. Offering sabbatical leave also differentiates employers in a crowded job market.
The reality is, in cases where employees take a sabbatical, the alternative would almost always be worse. Either an employee would simply leave the company for good or, worse, they’ll stick around for fear of losing their job but remain burned out and uninspired. Sabbaticals give employees the time and space they need to find their focus, without risking losing their job.
Where Sabbatical Policies Can Go Wrong
Sabbatical leave programs are not without risks. These include increased workload for HR staff administering the program and the possibility that an employee might decide to not return to work after their leave. There’s a corporate culture element to consider, as well—how will team members react when someone is allowed to leave for several months and return to his or her role? Companies may also find it a challenge to find the right candidate to temporary backfill the absent employee’s role.
Although the concept is growing in popularity, it’s important to outline how sabbatical leave is different from PTO, which is generally a much shorter duration, or medical leave, which is time off to deal with a specific medical problem suffered by the employee or the employee’s immediate family.
What to Include in a Sabbatical Policy
Before writing your sabbatical leave policy, make sure you consult your local and state labor laws for any guidance on employee leave. As always, it’s essential to avoid any potentially discriminatory actions, so it’s important to create a fair and transparent policy and put it in writing.
- Eligibility: Who is eligible for sabbatical leave? Many companies limit sabbatical to employees who have served the company for many years and have reached a certain status or title.
- Length: What is the minimum and maximum amount of time can an employee take as a sabbatical leave?
- Pay: Is an employee on leave paid full salary, partial salary or no salary? This may depend on whether or not an employee is using their break for activities related to their career.
- Benefits: Do employees remain enrolled in health plans while on leave?
- Access to company email: Are employees on sabbatical expected to check in at all?
- Application process: What is required to apply for sabbatical leave? Who makes sabbatical leave decisions—is there a committee that decides? What does the company need to know to make a decision on leave? How many employees are granted leave each year?
- Timing: how far in advance should an employee apply for sabbatical? Companies need to make arrangements to cover the employee’s work while he or she is out, so it’s important to take this into consideration when developing a policy.
- Backfilling roles: What will happen to the employee’s job while he or she is out?
Sample Sabbatical Leave Policy
Is your company ready to explore offering sabbatical leave to its employees? Our sample sabbatical leave policy is a good starting point. Once downloaded, the template can customized to meet the needs of your organization.