What is a sabbatical leave?

A sabbatical leave is a career break, usually between one and three months, that enables employees to pursue personal goals, reflect, and rejuvenate. Stemming from the old testament word, Shabbat, the weekly seventh day of rest, sabbaticals are not a new concept. In academia, taking a sabbatical is a common practice, and in the business world, they are gradually gaining traction. During a business sabbatical, employees may decide to:

  • Travel
  • Research
  • Engage in self-care
  • Pursue passions
  • Spend time with family

<<Explore how Bob simplifies and streamlines time-off management.>>

Why should HR leaders care about sabbaticals?

A sabbatical is a highly-desirable benefit; it offers precious free time to engage in activities that a full-time job may prevent employees from pursuing. Providing paid sabbaticals might seem pricey. Yet when employees step up to fill in for their colleagues, the transition can be seamless and the cost negligible. Moreover, empowering team-members to assume collective responsibility for a colleague on sabbatical deepens their knowledge while boosting camaraderie and loyalty. Rewarding dedicated employees with a career break after several jam-packed years of work can promote:

  • Engagement
  • Retention 
  • Motivation

What can HR leaders do to implement sabbaticals that drive engagement?

HR leaders must plan out the many aspects of a sabbatical to ensure that it benefits both employee and employer. These five steps contribute to an effective sabbatical system:

  • Outline a policy. Include the objectives of a sabbatical; this encourages alignment between practice and purpose. The policy should also answer essential questions such as: Do employees receive full, partial, or no payment during a sabbatical? How often can employees take a sabbatical? How long does a sabbatical last? Are all employees eligible for a sabbatical, or only upper-tier personnel? Consider the policy’s transparency and if it promotes equity and camaraderie in the workplace.
  • Communicate. Discuss the guidelines and expectations with employees well-before they leave for a sabbatical. For example, HR leaders should explain the payment procedure and the administrative tasks employees must accomplish before taking leave. This establishes clear parameters for the employee and employer to reap optimal benefits from the career break. 
  • Plan sabbaticals at intervals. Using an HRIS to organize the timing of sabbaticals ensures that team members’ time off won’t overlap.
  • Prepare coworkers. Training employees in advance is key to maintaining productivity during transition periods. Using succession planning metrics, HR leaders can encourage confidence, preparedness, and autonomy in employees about to take over the reins. 
  • Keep in touch with employees on sabbatical. Managers or HR can check in with employees occasionally to maintain the relationship. This can reduce the shock and ease their return to work when the time comes. 

How do sabbaticals improve company culture?

Sabbaticals provide an oasis for employees to disconnect from years of stress and reconnect to themselves. Taking time off for self-care, and helping colleagues do the same, can nurture employee wellbeing and strengthen interpersonal relationships. Investing in employees’ health is a way of reinvesting in the company, resulting in a happier workforce and a healthier company culture.