Your work schedule can get so packed, some days there are not spare minutes for breaks—much less the time to focus on building skills and experiences that can improve your job and even career. What you need may be a sabbatical.

Unlike vacations, sabbaticals allow employees to pursue enriching activities that benefit their career paths and their employers. Employees who take sabbaticals come back to work re-charged and ready to focus on the big picture. Implementing a sabbatical leave policy could be a game-changer for your company.

What’s Sabbatical Leave?

Sabbatical leave is an extended leave granted to a worker for study or travel. Traditionally, sabbaticals were taken by university professors, could last up to a year and be paid. Today, other industries, even construction, have adopted these policies and have made them much more fluid. Sabbaticals can be any duration in time, as long as they’re longer than standard employee vacations, and can be paid or unpaid.

Employees taking sabbatical leave engage in activities they normally couldn’t do with their regular work schedules. Some examples include:

  • Traveling overseas
  • Volunteering for an extended period
  • Researching topics relevant to their careers
  • Studying or training to advance their careers

Sabbatical leave is not a vacation. The goal of sabbatical leave isn’t just to de-stress, but to accomplish the above actions to help enrich careers and bring that development back to benefit the employers.

Developing a Sabbatical Leave Policy

When crafting a sabbatical leave policy, according to SHRM, HR departments should make sure to include:

The purpose of the policy

Clearly state why your company has this policy. It could be to encourage creativity or innovation to improve product development. It could be to elevate marketing efforts to expand into different industries. Or it could be to research green building practices to grow your customer base. Whatever the reason, make sure your policy ties the results of a sabbatical leave back to the company.

How the policy works

Outline who is eligible to take a sabbatical leave and for how long. Also, include what type of leave is considered appropriate. For example, sabbatical leave might be available for management or higher, may last anywhere from one month to a year and must be focused on self-development. If your employee is designing new software for the company or writing materials the company will use, make sure to include an intellectual property clause.

Iron out eligibility details

In your policy, be sure to specify which employees can take a sabbatical, for how long and what the rate of pay will be. Some companies offer sabbaticals unpaid, fully paid at their employee’s regular rate, 50% paid or some combination of all three. For example, professional and creative employees might be able to take up to six months of sabbatical leave, the first month at full pay, the second at 75% pay, the third at 50% and so on.

Companies may also tie tenure to the amount of leave taken. For example, it’s typical for a university to offer up to a year of sabbatical for every seven years worked. Your company might require employees at director and executive levels have at least 10 years of continuous full-time service for eligibility. Or, if your company is experiencing a trend where creative team members leave after five years, adopting a sabbatical leave policy after five years of continuous full-time employment might be a solution. Don’t forget to provide details about when eligible employees can reapply for sabbatical leave; like at least three years following their previous sabbatical completion.

Set procedures for requesting sabbatical leave

Spell out for employees how they can request sabbatical leave. It should include some type of internal form or letter requesting the leave including why the leave is warranted and what the employee will be doing while on sabbatical. Do employees want a sabbatical to continue their education, conduct research or volunteer? Also, include how sabbatical is granted, i.e., it is per request or determined by company necessity? And what type of communication is required from employee throughout the duration? For example, a company might require continual check-ins, grades or reports from trainings or submitted projects or manuscripts.

Stay compliant

Remind employees any time taken for approved Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave cannot be counted against eligibility or continuous service. The FMLA requires employers of 50 or more employees to give up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to eligible employees for the birth or adoption of a child or the serious illness of the employee or a spouse, child or parent. Also state if the employee may remain on the company’s group medical plan.

Examples of Sabbatical Leave Policies

There are several well-known companies, across a variety of industries, that offer sabbatical leave policies for their employees. Some examples include:

Arco Construction – The general contracting firm’s sabbatical program offers associates a month-long paid leave of absence for every five years of full-time employment. The time may be used to travel or pursue lifelong dreams. The company claims its associates have visited more than 30 countries on six different continents.

Vistaprint – The promotional product company offers a four-week sabbatical for every five years of service for all full-time employees in good standing. Called VistaBreak, the sabbatical leave policy became so popular it was extended to employees who refer talent.

Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants – The company offers a four-week-long sabbatical to employees who have worked at one of their hotels or restaurants for seven years. Employees must be director level or above to qualify for this benefit.

Adobe – The software company offers sabbatical leave to employees with at least five years of continuous employment and work a minimum of 24 hours a week. Employees can use the leave to relax, recharge, energize or volunteer. The length of leave increases with every five years of employment. Employees with 10 years of service receive five weeks and 15-plus years receive six weeks. Employees on sabbatical receive their regular pay and benefits.

Zillow Group – The real estate site offers employees with six years of continuous service up to six weeks of time to “Reboot & Recharge”. Sabbatical leave is offered to employees at all levels as long as they meet the tenure requirements.

Advantages of Sabbatical Leave

Why should you pay employees to leave work for a month, six months or even a year? Sabbatical leave offers many advantages for companies.

For employees, the leave allows them to de-stress and re-energize. Employees get the opportunity to pursue a lifelong dream, like travel, write a book or volunteer out of the country, and that makes them happier. Employees come back with increased knowledge, energy and enhanced wellbeing. Employees who are happy are more engaged in their work and more likely to retain their employment with your company, reducing turnover.

For employers, one of the biggest benefits of offering sabbatical leave is reducing turnover. Turnover costs companies an average of $4,000 to hire a new employee and can affect a company’s overall performance. If employees must cover the work of someone who has quit, they can quickly get burned out. The morale at a company can drop fast when employees keep jumping ship. And just as low morale spreads quickly, so does happiness. Employees who are emotionally well positively impact their co-workers.

Consider another advantage; according to Digital HR Tech, offering sabbatical leave can even help companies prepare for the future or the unexpected. If you allow your company’s leaders to take sabbatical leave, it allows others to step into their role, testing your succession planning. It also allows companies to be proactive by preparing for long-term absences. It’s never a good thing when one employee leaving can sink the entire ship. Developing plans that cover absences at every position helps companies easily pivot when essential employees leave.

Plus, when it comes to recruiting, offering sabbatical leave is a great perk that will attract new employees. It could be what sets your company apart from the competition.

Creating a sabbatical leave policy helps create a company culture that both retains and attracts the best employees. While implementing a sabbatical leave party won’t solve all of your issues, like high turnover rates or lack of applicants, it may just be the benefit that gives your company an edge.

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