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GuidesEmployee experienceWhat you need to know about sabbatical leave

What you need to know about sabbatical leave

Last updated

13 January 2024

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Shawnna Johnson

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Most employees are dedicated to their careers. Many spend the majority of their week either at the office, surrounded by co-workers, or working remotely in a home-office environment. However, even the most devoted employee sometimes wants to step away for an extended period.

If an employee wants to take time away, they can take sabbatical leave. A sabbatical is an extended break from work that allows employees to spend more time on their interests, including travel, hobbies, education, or volunteering.

During sabbatical leave, the employee is still technically employed by the company, but they do not have to report to work. With more and more people embracing the power of solid work–life balance, sabbatical leave is a benefit that employers should understand and consider offering.

What is sabbatical leave?

The definition of sabbatical leave is a "break from work," one that allows employees to pursue their passions or self-development. Sabbatical leave differs from other types of leave in that it is not usually directly related to a health concern or medical issue.

Most employees who take a sabbatical do so because they want to work on personal interests. Reasons for a sabbatical can include finishing a degree, traveling the world, or spending time with family.

Sabbatical leave for employees

Going on a sabbatical has significant benefits for employees and employers. Taking a sabbatical allows you to enjoy a healthy work–life balance and recharge, away from the demands of the office.

How long is sabbatical leave?

There's no set length of time for a sabbatical. In general, a sabbatical is any stint of time longer than a standard vacation request and can range from 30 days to 12 months.

Your organization might have specific rules in place for sabbatical leave, or they might handle requests on a case-by-case basis. In some cases, employers may refer to a sabbatical as “personal leave.”

How does sabbatical leave work?

To initiate your request for a sabbatical, you'll first need to talk to your manager. Explain that you want to take a sabbatical and be prepared to outline the reasons why. After talking to your manager, coordinate with your human resources department for details on any existing company policies governing sabbaticals.

You'll likely need to discuss how long you think you'll be away, as well as what resources your team will need while you're out. You will probably also need to fill out specific paperwork for legal reasons.

Is sabbatical leave paid or unpaid?

Whether or not sabbatical leave is paid or unpaid depends on the company. Some businesses offer paid sabbatical leave, but that's not always the case.

Sabbatical leave is considered an employee benefit, and as such, it's up to the discretion of the organization. If sabbatical leave is a benefit that's important to you, and if you're actively looking for new employment, consider asking about that policy during the acceptance phase of your interview.

Sabbatical leave for employers

Sabbatical leave isn't just a boon for employees. Employers can reap rewards from allowing employees to take extended time away from work while remaining employed.

There are several reasons why employers should consider offering sabbatical leave as a benefit, but there are also some drawbacks.

The benefits of offering a sabbatical

Employees will see it as a sign that your organization strongly believes in a good work-life balance. Sabbatical leave can also help prepare your team for unexpected absences, testing the ability of your employees and the integrity of your business processes.

Employees who take a sabbatical and return to work are likely to display increased productivity and engagement along with a more satisfied employee experience overall. They will return to the office with renewed enthusiasm for their job, not only because they're refreshed, but because they appreciate your willingness to allow them to take extended time off.

Some employees use sabbaticals to complete education that can be used when they return to work. Sabbaticals can act as a safeguard against employee burnout. Many employees use their sabbaticals for volunteer work, allowing companies to demonstrate their commitment to social responsibility.

The challenges of offering sabbatical leave

It's not always easy to offer sabbatical leave. A valued employee stepping away from work for weeks or months at a time can leave your company in a bind, forcing you to meet goals and deadlines with a reduced staff.

There can also be financial implications. If you offer paid sabbaticals, your company could pay out a great deal of resources for this benefit. Even unpaid sabbaticals can place strain on existing employees, forcing you to consider the cost of hiring and training additional help.

Decisions must also be made on how employee benefits such as medical care will be covered during their absence.

What should a sabbatical leave policy look like?

Just as every company is different, sabbatical leave policies are not all the same. Feel free to tailor your policy to the needs and goals of your company.

Consider some basics when creating your policy. For example, think about how long an employee will be required to work at the company before becoming eligible for a sabbatical, or whether you will only offer sabbaticals for specific reasons, such as volunteering or the pursuit of education.

Sabbatical leave: Paid or unpaid?

One of the most important decisions you'll make when creating your company's sabbatical leave policy is whether it will be paid or unpaid. You can opt to pay employees their full salary or a partial salary during their time away. You could also base your paid or unpaid sabbatical leave on how long the employee has been with the company and what activity they plan to pursue during their sabbatical.

Keep in mind that, without compensation of some sort, many employees will be dissuaded from taking a sabbatical, since they might not be able to afford extended unpaid time away from work.

Another option is to continue the employee’s health benefits while on sabbatical. Sometimes this is enough incentive for the employee to return once the leave is complete.

How long is sabbatical leave?

A sabbatical is any length of time longer than a typical vacation and typically ranges from 30 days to 12 months. You can offer a set amount of time that employees can take away from work or choose to handle sabbatical requests on a case-by-case basis.

However you choose to structure your policy, stay consistent. You want to avoid any claims of bias or discrimination.

Who can take a sabbatical?

Sabbaticals are more than standard vacation requests. Carefully consider which kinds of employees should be eligible for one.

In many companies, sabbaticals are considered a reward for many years of dedicated service. Sabbaticals can be used as a retention tool, offered after five or ten years of employment.

Consider what makes sense for your company and what best aligns with your organization's core values and business needs.

How to prepare for an employee's sabbatical leave

Preparing properly for an employee's sabbatical will ensure your business runs smoothly while a team member is out for an extended period.

Know exactly how long the employee will be on leave, and figure out how you'll split their duties while they're away or if you’ll need to hire temporary help. Plan this before the sabbatical starts, so you have enough time to talk to the team members who are taking over.

Make sure everyone is comfortable with the arrangement and know that you might need to hire a fill-in if there are too many duties for your existing team members to handle. If the employee taking a sabbatical is the main point of contact with clients, make sure a replacement is chosen and that the client is introduced properly to that person.

Alternatives to sabbatical leave

For many reasons, some employees aren't able to take extended time away from work, especially if that time is unpaid or the business cannot support the extended absence.

However, there are still options for dedicated employees to enjoy some rest. Standard vacation or paid time off (PTO) allows workers to recharge away from the office. Employers might consider including some additional PTO days into their benefits package as a perk for employees who stay with the company for longer than a year or two.

You could also offer shorter unpaid time off separate from PTO. Sometimes, one or two days a week can be as beneficial as a full sabbatical.

FAQs

Can I resign after my sabbatical?

You can resign after your sabbatical unless there's a stipulation in the company policy or your employment contract that safeguards against this. If you might want to leave your job during or after a sabbatical, familiarize yourself with your company's policies and procedures, so you know what to expect.

What's the difference between a sabbatical and normal leave?

Both a sabbatical and regular leave involve significant time away from work, either paid or unpaid, but the reasons for taking them differ.

A sabbatical is typically used for self-improvement purposes, such as volunteering, education, or pursuing personal passions. A leave of absence is typically taken by an employee facing a difficult time, such as a family death or a serious health concern for themselves or a family member.

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