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The 2023 HR Guide to Sabbatical Leave

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

The 2023 HR Guide to Sabbatical Leave

There are those days when we just want to take a break from work. Not just the typical 3-day vacation but a solid 6 months to go on a paradisiacal Euro trip.  

If you’re considering taking an extended break from work, it’s worth looking into your company’s sabbatical leave policy. Most organizations have some kind of paid time off (PTO), but some employers go the extra mile to offer sabbaticals.

Employees who have been with a company for long, typically for more than 5 years, may be eligible for a sabbatical. It’s a special type of leave that allows employees to take time off their job for an extended period—typically six months to one year—and do something different.

Sabbaticals used to be something that only happened in the academic world. Today, many forward-thinking companies, including Adobe, Deloitte, Capterra, American Express, and Accenture, extend this privilege to their employees.

In this guide, we’ll discuss sabbatical leave in detail, including what it is, how it works, and what to consider when creating a sabbatical leave policy.

What Is a Sabbatical Leave?

A sabbatical leave is simply a long voluntary break away from work that an employee takes with permission from the employer. Think of it as an extended paid or unpaid leave companies offer eligible employees.

Note that not every company offers sabbatical leave. And even for those that offer, not every employee qualifies for it.

Whether or not an employee is eligible depends on the company’s policy and many other factors, such as the length of service and the reason for requesting an extended leave of absence. Employees can apply for a sabbatical leave for a number of reasons:

  • Researching and teaching (for academics)
  • Focusing on growth and wellbeing
  • Traveling the world
  • Taking a work break
  • Continuing education

How Long Is a Sabbatical Leave?

There’s no written rule or universal agreement on how long a sabbatical can be. It depends on what you want to do and your company’s sabbatical policies.

However, they should be longer than employee vacations. Some organizations grant this leave for six months. Others, like Adobe, offer 4 weeks to employees who have been with the company for at least 5 years. But for Higher ED, sabbaticals are usually 6 months to 1 year.

Types of Sabbatical Leave

A question that always arises is whether sabbaticals are paid or unpaid. Well, it depends on the company’s policies and the type of leave an employee requests. Here are the 3 types of leaves an employee may be eligible for.

Paid Sabbatical

With paid sabbatical, the employee receives regular pay while on leave. In most organizations, paid sabbaticals are usually reserved for high-level executives.

Unpaid Sabbaticals

In our experience, most companies don’t pay for sabbaticals, though a select few will pay you during a sabbatical leave.

Even if you don’t pay an employee during their leave of absence, you’ll still consider them your employee. That means they’re still bound by your organization’s policies of confidentiality, harassment, and data protection while on leave.

Partially Paid Sabbatical

This policy is a hybrid of the two types mentioned above, where employees on leave receive partial pay—an amount agreed upon before the leave is granted.

How Does a Sabbatical Leave Work?

Usually, a sabbatical is offered to employees who have been with the company for a specific amount of time. Legally, there’s no minimum requirement, but most employers consider 5 years the minimum eligibility requirement for a sabbatical leave.

Employees who qualify will usually need to apply for it several months in advance. The organization will evaluate the request against the company’s policies on sabbaticals, taking other factors into account, such as pending projects, and approve it if all the criteria are met.

The company will then make arrangements to replace the employee when they’re on sabbatical or divide their work among other employees.

Benefits of Sabbatical Leave

Sabbatical leave can offer many benefits to both the employee and the employer. Here are the benefits for the employer.

1. Employee Retention

Sabbaticals can foster employee retention by offering them an opportunity to take a break from work and return with renewed energy and motivation. It’s one of the perks you could use to attract top talents since not many employers offer sabbaticals.

2. Increased Productivity

Sabbaticals can be taken to pursue higher education or take an extended break from work to refresh, recharge, and achieve work-life balance. Employees who take this leave can return with better ideas and a more focused mindset. This often leads to increased productivity and profitability in the long run.

3. Employer Branding

Offering this type of leave can help organizations build a reputation and establish themselves as supportive and employee-centric companies.

What to Consider When Creating a Sabbatical Leave Policy

If not well planned and implemented, sabbaticals can lead to operation disruptions and performance bottlenecks within an organization. You can avoid this by considering these factors when implementing a sabbatical leave policy.

1. Required Notice

Consider how far in advance employees should notify you of their sabbatical leave plans. A three months notice is recommended as it allows you to reassign the employee duties and even hire temporary staff if needed.

2. Pending Projects

No employee should be granted a sabbatical if they have any pending projects that would impact the company’s operations and bottom line. This policy ensures there will be no work or operational disruptions once the employee goes on an extended leave.

3. Paid or Unpaid Leave

Consider whether to pay employees on sabbatical or not. You may pay full salary, partial salary, or no salary at all, depending on your financial capabilities.

You could also consider paying employees who leave to enhance their professional development but offer unpaid sabbaticals to those who take a break for personal reasons.

4. Years of Experience

As mentioned, not every employee qualifies for sabbatical leave. Consider the number of years employees need to have worked in your company to qualify for this privilege.

5. Competent Workforce

Once the employee leaves for a sabbatical, their work will need to be handled by someone else. If no one in the organization is competent enough to take on the role, the employee may be required to train other staff before leaving for a sabbatical.

Key Takeaways

A sabbatical leave is an extended break from work granted by the employer for various purposes, including professional development, personal reasons, and academic growth.

This type of leave can benefit the organization by improving retention, increasing productivity, and elevating the employer brand. If well implemented, sabbaticals can be a win-win for the employer and the employee.

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