Woman stretching in a chair out on a deck with a laptop on her lap.
Employee sabbaticals are a unique and competitive perk for business to offer, but there are a lot of questions to ask yourself when considering implementing a program. — Getty Images/Oscar Wong

Most companies have some kind of paid time off (PTO) policy for their employees, but some employers go one step further and also offer sabbaticals. Separate from vacation or sick leave, a sabbatical is a longer leave of absence — typically four consecutive weeks or more — that an employee can take after a certain tenure or milestone at the company.

While sabbaticals can allow employees to recharge and explore new enrichment opportunities, there are a few important things to keep in mind before you implement a policy. If you’re contemplating an employee sabbatical program, here are some pros, cons, and general considerations to be aware of.

[Read More: How to Structure Employee Paid Time Off Policies]

The logistics of offering sabbatical leave

Similar to parental leave, FMLA leave, and other extended absences, offering employee sabbaticals requires careful planning for both the employee and the employer.

You may need to hire or train temporary replacements and/or have the employee work with their colleagues to delegate their responsibilities during their time off. If two or more employees are concurrently eligible to take a sabbatical, you’ll need to plan their schedules so you don’t have multiple team members out on leave at the same time.

Some employers also offer full or partial pay during an employee’s sabbatical leave, so your payroll budget may also be a factor to consider. If you opt for unpaid leave, employees should be aware of what other benefits will still be available to them during their absence.

Pros and cons of employee sabbaticals

Pros

  • It allows employees to recharge. Employees have space to recharge and reconnect to better nurture personal needs, especially if they’re experiencing burnout.
  • It offers opportunities for personal and professional growth. Sabbaticals give employees time they may not have otherwise had to explore new ideas, experiences, and hobbies that enrich them both personally and professionally.
  • It’s a competitive benefit that can help you attract and retain talent. This rare but valuable employee perk could help you stand out to prospective candidates. As of 2019, just 16% of companies offered sabbaticals, according to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, and only 5% of those programs were paid sabbaticals.

Cons

  • Employees may feel disconnected upon return. After an extended period away, an employee may feel like they’ve missed out on company culture and internal opportunities.
  • It impacts the rest of your team. Colleagues will need to take over the absent employee’s job duties, which could lead to burnout, lower productivity, or even resentment among remaining team members.
  • It presents some administrative difficulties. Whether you offer a paid or unpaid sabbatical, you will need to work closely with your payroll and benefits administrator to ensure your employee retains any health coverage or ongoing benefits that get deducted from their paychecks.

As of 2019, just 16% of companies offered sabbaticals, according to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, and only 5% of those programs were paid sabbaticals.

What to consider when offering employee sabbaticals

If you’re leaning toward offering sabbaticals, here are some of the most important questions to ask yourself when structuring your sabbatical program.

How will we define a sabbatical and will employees be allowed to take them for any reason?

Some companies allow staff to take a sabbatical for any purpose, while others stipulate that the leave must be taken for activities such as volunteering or studying.

Will the sabbatical be paid or unpaid?

A fully paid sabbatical can be costly for an employer, so you might consider reduced wages or no wages at all. You might also consider paying employees who use the leave to improve on a professional skill but not paying those who choose to take the leave for personal reasons.

Who is eligible to take a sabbatical?

Companies that offer sabbaticals typically set minimum tenure and performance standards before an employee becomes eligible. For instance, you might only offer this option to employees who have been with the company for at least five years and have never had a disciplinary warning or poor performance review.

How long can an employee’s sabbatical be?

Sabbaticals are typically a minimum of several weeks but can extend up to several months if an employer is able to cover the absence for that long. Companies like Adobe and PayPal offer four weeks of sabbatical leave for every five years of service, while Deloitte offers the option for a three- to six-month reduced-pay sabbatical to pursue career development and volunteer opportunities.

How often can employees go on sabbatical?

Once an employee becomes eligible, can they take a sabbatical every year, every other year, every five years, etc.? This will depend on how many employees you have and the likelihood that multiple employees will be taking a sabbatical throughout a given year.

[Read More: How to Hire a Temporary Employee]

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Published November 21, 2022