As workplaces become less robotic and more empathetic (a welcome change, right?), we’re seeing many new human-centric policies making their way into organisational handbooks. One of them is the sabbatical leave — a leave type that goes beyond table stakes such as sick leave, casual leave or parental leave.

You guessed it. This guide’s going to dive deep into sabbatical leave and will answer the most popular questions about this rare leave type, including:

  • What is sabbatical leave?
  • Are sabbaticals paid?
  • What are the benefits of sabbatical leave for employees?
  • What are the benefits of sabbatical leave for organisations?
  • Who does sabbatical leave apply to?
  • How do I offer my teams sabbatical leave?

Let’s get the ball rolling.

What is sabbatical leave?

A sabbatical is a period where someone leaves their ordinary work to study, travel or volunteer but is still considered employed. We’ll save the longer history lesson for another day, but the word “sabbatical” comes from the Hebrew word Shabbat, meaning the day of rest. It has evolved to mean a voluntary break from work that you take with permission.

A sabbatical isn’t quite a long holiday. Think of it more like the equivalent of a gap year during studies, or a career break without the job insecurity.

Employees typically take a sabbatical with a singular goal in mind. For many, that’s volunteering, researching, travelling, going back to school, or even writing a book. Sure, sabbatical policies don’t usually considered rest a goal. But it’s a definite side benefit!

Sabbaticals are quite popular among university professors and lecturers, but it’s making its way into other workplaces as well.

Are sabbaticals paid?

Ah, yes, the burning question. The answer depends on the organisation that’s offering the sabbatical. Industry titans like AdobeSalesforcePatagonia, and Intel offer paid or unpaid sabbaticals to their employees, although they have guidelines that limit the number of people who can take it. Intel even calls it the King of Benefits, and for good reason:

Some organisations pay only a percentage of your salary during your sabbatical period. The rate might change depending on what you’re using your sabbatical for.

Others prefer to offer unpaid sabbaticals, but make up for that with relaxed rules and limitations.

What are the benefits of taking a sabbatical for employees?

Now that you have a clearer picture of what a sabbatical leave entails, allow us to guess your next question: why should I go on a sabbatical as an employee? And we get that. Being creatures of routine and habit, an extended break seems like alien territory. A lot of us hesitate to even take the paid time off we’re entitled to. This is especially if the organisation has an unlimited leave policy.

But there are a host of benefits you can reap from taking a well-timed sabbatical leave. They’ll depend on how long your break is, what your goal is, what your role in the company is and, more philosophically, where you are in life. We’re not all asking for the same things from life, but here are some general benefits of sabbatical leave for employees:

Paying it forward

If you’ve spent a long time building your career, sabbatical leave is a great opportunity to give back to the community and volunteer your hard-earned skills.

Career growth

Sabbatical leave can be a reset button or a shift to the next gear, depending on where you are in your career. If you’re stuck in a rut or you’ve achieved perfect clarity, this is the time to put the next steps into motion!

Improved wellbeing

Stepping away from the banalities of an everyday job even for a day is quite rewarding. So imagine the wonders that could happen when you’re on sabbatical leave! It’s a great opportunity to rebalance work, life, and play, as well as avoid burnout from stress and overload.

Job security and stability

It can be daunting to up and leave a job, especially when it’s your major source of income. A sabbatical softens that blow — it retains job security and financial stability while also allowing you to pursue something else for a while.

What are the benefits of sabbatical leave for organisations?

Can we be cheesy and say your employee’s wellbeing is your win? It can be hard to see what the benefits of sabbatical leave are for an employer. After all, it sounds a lot like you’re letting an amazing teammate press pause on work while they’re still on your payroll. But let’s look beyond that immediate thought to see the irrefutable benefits of offering sabbatical leave as an organisation:

Employee retention

92% of employees consider benefits as important to their overall job satisfaction, and these include fringe benefits like sabbaticals. Keeping your employees happy and engaged is a sure-fire way to retain them in the longer run.

Skill development

Sabbaticals give employees time to hone their skills — and whether those are soft skills or hard skills, they benefit the organisation equally. Instead of having to find tailor-made programmes and enrol team members, offering sabbatical leave lets employees choose their own route to growth, which also reflects positively on the organisation.

Productivity during work hours

Since sabbatical leave gives employees dedicated time to work on themselves, it makes them more productive during work hours because distractions have been reduced. As a result, you’ll probably see teammates doing their best work within working hours — and that’s a win!

Training for interim leaders

When someone goes on a sabbatical, you’ll need an interim leader to fill their shoes. This is a great opportunity to train someone for future roles without needing to spare additional resources. When the sabbatical taker comes back, you’ll get two highly efficient team members in the bargain!

Who does sabbatical leave apply to?

Again, the answer to the question of “who can take sabbatical leave” depends on the country and the employer.

Some organisations offer sabbatical leave to team members who’ve been with them for five years or more.

Others, like Adobe, offer four weeks to those who’ve been at the company for at least five years, and five weeks for those who’ve stuck around for 10 years. They also ask you to take your sabbatical leave within 24 months of becoming eligible or risk losing it.

How do I offer my teams a sabbatical?

When you’re setting up your sabbatical policy as a founder or an HR lead, you’ll need to factor in more than just employee joining dates. For example, you’ll need to keep in mind:

  • Your ability to divide that team member’s work between existing team members
  • The possibilities of hiring someone to replace them during a sabbatical
  • If you’re offering paid or unpaid sabbaticals
  • A clause that asks the employee to stay on for a fixed number of months after coming back from sabbatical leave

You’ll then need to define the conditions under which someone can take sabbatical leave. Are you okay with folks going on a sabbatical to spend time with kids? Or would you rather offer sabbatical leave for certain cases such as volunteering or studies? Whatever the choice, any sabbatical policy needs to be transparent so everyone’s on the same page.

Sabbaticals: the secret to happy and engaged teams

Sabbatical leave is a great opportunity for employees to step off the treadmill and pursue interests. It’s also one of the best-kept secrets to building teams who are dedicated and bring their individual strengths to the table.

Creating a sabbatical policy can take time and effort. But it’s well worth leaving the proverbial soil fallow in anticipation of the incredible fruits it’ll bear soon!