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Sabbatical Leave: An Approach to Make Your Employees Thrive

- 13 min read

With employee retention being a cornerstone of effective workforce management, the responsibility to address the challenges threatening the workers' stay has shifted away from the individual and toward the organization. It is common to refer to burnout, decreased motivation, and impaired productivity as personal issues solvable by learning to say no, implementing breathing techniques, and practicing emotional resilience. However, the exhaustion associated with continuous focus on one's professional duties might entail adverse effects that require a more holistic managerial approach. And here is where the sabbatical leave comes into play.

Defining a sabbatical

What if you could take several weeks off without the risk of losing your job? Would you take such an opportunity? If yes, how would it affect your professional performance?

Though some HR managers might be reluctant to let the employees depart from their duties for a little while, it turns out that time off from work is a prerequisite for enhancing employee productivity and boosting organizational performance. Ironically enough, allowing your workforce to leave is one of the most feasible approaches to encourage them to stay.

A sabbatical leave is an extended break from work during which employees can pursue leisure interests or get some physical/ emotional rest while retaining their status as a workforce member.

The concept of sabbatical years originated from the Scripture, defining every seventh year when, for 12 months, there was no cultivation, and people and fields could rest and rejuvenate.

In its modern sense, the notion refers to a broader and more general context. Initially offered exclusively to individuals working in academia, sabbatical years provided teachers with some time off from a physically and mentally demanding occupation. University educators received 12 months of paid leave every seven years to pursue their research goals or spend some time away from the academic setting.

The grounds for taking time off are diverse: from pursuing a degree or volunteering to exploring the world and dedicating more time to personal matters. A sabbatical differs from other types of leaves in that it usually lasts longer – between a month to a year. Employers grant extended time off work only to those who have been with the company for a while. Hence, the sabbatical is a special type of reward given to loyal workers.

bottle with sabbatical letter

How does it work?

A sabbatical benefits those employees who have been with the company for a particular time frame. Though there is no minimum requirement, most companies define such a milestone with a 5-year mark. Furthermore, the duration of a sabbatical is not legally predetermined and, thus, is flexible and considered individually.

Companies usually have specific regulations and rules about the arrangement and management of sabbaticals. For example, employees might get an opportunity to take their leaves within a predetermined period or they lose it. Additionally, if a worker decides to take a sabbatical, they may be asked to testify to staying at the organization for a pre-specified period after they return. Such a strategy works similarly to that of tuition reimbursement benefits.

At the same time, while on sabbatical, workers remain officially employed by the company. This implies they stay bound by their organization’s policies and regulations concerning harassment, confidentiality, data protection, and others.

Given the differences between a regular vacation and a sabbatical, several aspects should be considered while taking this type of time off. These might include training a replacement, delegating current duties, and other factors commonly overlooked during shorter breaks. It is also worth noting that sabbaticals are at least four-week long and might reach a 12-month timeframe, which allows the beneficiary to enjoy the given type of leave to the fullest.

sabbatical leave burnout image

Are employees paid during a sabbatical leave?

Admittedly, it took more than a century for the given practice to outstretch to the fields beyond academia. Though more HR managers start acknowledging the genuine merits of sabbaticals, allowing employees to take some time away from the daily grind, only 13% of companies offered unpaid leave and a much smaller fraction of 5% provided an opportunity for reimbursed time-offs in 2018.

The failure to incorporate the option of extended paid leaves might partially explain the decreased retention rates among the modern workforce – a phenomenon widely referred to as the Great Resignation.

10 benefits of employee sabbatical

The core advantage of a sabbatical is that it addresses multiple areas undermined by employee burnout, work-related exhaustion, and the feeling of being swamped with professional responsibilities. Moreover, it does so in a way that fits both the company and its employees.

Benefits of sabbatical initiatives for employees include:

  • Fewer and less severe instances of work-related burnout
  • Reduced workplace stress
  • More opportunities for self-development
  • Capacity to maintain a sound work-life balance
  • More positive approach toward professional duties, i.e. better professional ethics

With burnout being one of the most detrimental outcomes of chronic stress, a sabbatical serves as a straightforward solution to managing an exhausting continuum of work. According to World Health Organization, the consequences of burnout are apparent in three distinct dimensions, namely prolonged experience of energy depletion, emotional distance from or negative approach to work, and diminished professional efficacy.

women tries avoid stress image

Likewise, the sabbatical programs contribute to the overall organizational success by:

  • Improving the employee retention
  • Encouraging creativity and innovation within the workforce
  • Enhancing corporate culture
  • Addressing the cost of high workforce turnover
  • Stimulating better organizational performance
happy team with sabbatical leave image

By implementing a well-designed sabbatical policy into HR management, a company automatically boosts its chances of retaining the workforce while enhancing organizational performance. On the one hand, a sabbatical is a self-evident approach to granting employees an invaluable opportunity to recharge their batteries and restore their physical and mental well-being. On the other hand, sabbatical programs testify to the readiness and willingness of the company to cultivate a person-centered working environment, which is fundamental in the era of work overloads and emotional instability.

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