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Are Sabbaticals Good for Business?

extended leaveTaking an extended leave from work – also called a sabbatical – was once considered something that only people in a few select professions could take advantage of – like the clergy, doctors, scientists or teachers. But according to the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) 2016 Benefits Survey, working benefits like sabbaticals and flex time are becoming more desirable among employees in many industries. Hence, more employers are offering sabbaticals as a way to attract and retain top talent.

Like many other ‘non-traditional’ employee benefits that have taken hold and gained popularity with companies across the country, workplace sabbaticals come with advantages and drawbacks. What works at one company may not work at another. But we’re seeing more employers of all sizes offering them – from financial and tech firms to those in the legal, retail and services markets.

For employees, a sabbatical provides a chance to rest and recharge the body and mind. The word sabbatical comes from the word ‘sabbath’ which means to rest. The definition of ‘rest’ is different for every person – although some employers may have work-related requirements that employees must complete while on sabbatical.

Many employees choose to use their extended leave from work to learn a new skill, volunteer, explore a new hobby or pursue a travel adventure or other passion. Others may choose to just relax and decompress at home with little to no to-do list. So what’s the benefit for employers? The likelihood of employee burnout drops. And once employees return to work, they are typically more creative, more productive and more satisfied with their job.

With the pluses come some potential minuses for both employee and employer. Less manpower at the office often means less work gets done and productivity suffers. Or the employee’s workload get divvied out to the rest of the team, putting the burden and more stress on others. There is also the chance that an employee will decide to make her extended leave permanent and not return. The employer’s cost to hire and onboard a new employee can be significant.

Some employers offer paid sabbatical programs but many do not. If your employer falls into the latter category, one big drawback of taking a sabbatical is not getting a paycheck. Lots of planning and saving leading up to the extended leave from work is usually a must-do. 

Laying the Policy Groundwork
For employers to have a successful sabbatical program, the right groundwork must be laid. Keep the following guidelines in mind when designing a policy:

  • First, confirm if employees are receptive to the idea of sabbaticals as a work benefit.
  • Determine if sabbaticals will be paid or unpaid.
  • Outline the eligibility requirements for taking a sabbatical. Many employers will base eligibility on the numbers of years served at the company or the employee’s level of seniority. In some companies, only managers or partners are eligible for a sabbatical.
  • Determine the length of the sabbatical. Some employers offer 4-week, 6-week or 8-week sabbaticals. Some offer 6-month or even 12-month leaves of absence.
  • Identify how frequently employees may take a sabbatical. Many employers will allow a sabbatical every so many years. Some employers will allow a one-time extended leave.
  • Know how an employee’s workload will be managed while he is out of the office.
  • Have a process in place for transitioning the employee’s workload back to him once he returns to the office.
  • Measure the effect of the sabbatical on employees after they return. Do they come back with a fresh perspective? Are they happier? More productive? More likely to stay at their job?

Bottom line – taking an extended leave from work can help employees stay motivated and satisfied with their job. And it can help employers retain top talent. If you want to learn more about sabbaticals and how to implement a program at your company, check out this interesting website.