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If you could take six months to a year off your job and return with the same pay and benefits, would you? What if your company paid you to take this time off? Would you do it then? Sabbatical leave sounds like a great deal.
I think that if more companies offered sabbatical leave, they’d be able to attract and retain top talent, and many proponents of the FIRE movement might even be tempted to remain in the workforce.
So that begs the question – why don’t more companies offer sabbatical leave?
What is Sabbatical Leave?
A sabbatical is a break from work. Sabbatical leave is when an organization allows its employees to take an extended break to pursue other interests. Many people take a sabbatical to study, research, travel, or even spend time with their families.
Sabbatical leave is different from all other types of paid leave, including parental leave, annual leave, sick leave, and other types of paid vacation time. It generally is not included in any of those leave balances.
During a sabbatical, a person is still employed with their original place of business. However, they do not need to complete any of their traditional duties during their break.
Is Sabbatical Leave Paid?
A sabbatical can be either paid or unpaid. It depends on the company. With unpaid sabbatical leave, a company basically lets an employee take extended time off and allows them to come back to their job after. It’s similar to a leave of absence. Unfortunately, most employees can’t afford to take advantage of unpaid sabbatical offerings. Bills don’t stop coming in when you are on sabbatical!
Paid sabbatical leave is the dream. In this scenario, employees get paid for their normal jobs but get an extended break to do whatever they want.
How Long is Sabbatical Leave?
Sabbatical leave is different than a traditional vacation. It’s supposed to be an extended time off. The entire point is time to pursue other interests without the stress of work drama hanging over your head.
According to Indeed, a sabbatical can be as short as two months or as long as two years. However, on average, most are about six months.
Who Gets Sabbatical Leave?
Most employees aren’t eligible for sabbatical leave – most companies don’t even offer it! Those who do offer it limit it to long-term employees. You can’t start a job and take a six-month sabbatical immediately; your eligibility generally depends on your length of service.
Many companies have eligibility requirements based on tenure. It can be as little as five years of service, but often it’s much longer than that. Sabbatical leave is mostly offered in academia, and to be eligible for it, an employee must be a tenured professor. This is extremely difficult to achieve.
Sabbatical leave is often seen as a once in a career perk. Employees are only eligible to take one sabbatical at any given organization.
How Common is Sabbatical Leave?
Unfortunately, sabbatical leave, in general, is not that common. According to a 2017 study by the Society of Human Resource Management, only 17% of companies offered any sabbatical leave, and only 5% of them offered paid sabbatical leave. This means that most employees don’t get this benefit at all, and if they do, odds are it’s unpaid.
Why Don’t More Companies Offer Sabbaticals?
The unfortunate truth is that companies don’t want to lose a trained employee for an extended period of time. Why offer a sabbatical when that means you would have to train and replace an employee while they are out? That doesn’t seem to make good business sense.
In my humble opinion, these businesses are wrong. They are only looking at the bottom line, not at what is best for everyone overall. Our work culture promotes the idea that you need to be hustling and working constantly, and if you aren’t, you are a terrible person who deserves to live a life of poverty. This couldn’t be further from the truth, and the sooner we, as a nation, realize that our work culture is toxic and make a real effort to change things, the better off we will be. Offering sabbatical leave would have benefits not only for employees who can take it but also for companies that offer it. Not offering amazing benefits like this is short-sighted and detrimental to our well-being.
The Benefits of Sabbatical Leave
It’s pretty easy to see how offering a sabbatical can be immensely beneficial for employees. I bet you’re wondering how it might benefit the company. In my opinion, happy, healthy employees are the most productive employees. Having a workforce full of happy, loyal people is what any company should strive for.
Here’s how offering a sabbatical can help achieve this and be a win-win for both employee and employer.
The biggest advantage for both employees and employers is that a sabbatical can help prevent burnout. Knowing you can take an extended break without having it affect your job security would be an amazing weight off an employee’s shoulders. Having a workforce that isn’t suffering from severe burnout would help a company be as productive as possible. Burnout is bad for everyone. Giving hard-working employees a much-needed, extended break would be a huge step towards alleviating it.
Companies value loyalty in their employees. However, most companies don’t offer anything to inspire loyalty. People feel that they can be fired for no reason. They don’t feel valued or that their individual needs are important.
Offering a paid sabbatical can inspire loyalty. Wouldn’t you want to work for and support a company that cares so much for its employees that it is willing to offer them paid time to do whatever they want? Wouldn’t you work harder for a company that offers things like this? Maybe it’s just me, but I’d be more loyal to a company that showed it cared about me.
Recruit and Retain the Best Employees
Retention goes hand in hand with loyalty. Employees who care about their company are more willing to stay. Employees who know they can take an extended break will also be more willing to stay. This, in turn, will reduce overhead in hiring and training costs.
In addition, a company that offers amazing perks like sabbatical leave is going to be highly sought after by potential employees. This means that the work unit can attract top talent, making recruitment that much easier.
The benefits for employees are clear. Who wouldn’t want extended time off to pursue the things that they are passionate about? Passion Fire is my dream, but I wonder if I’d be willing to stay with a job that would give me time off to pursue my passions. What if I could travel for a year then come back to work? Would I? Would financial independence be as important to me if my work offered me the chance to do everything that I wanted?
Honestly, I think I would stay. I think I’d take advantage of the sabbatical to live the way I want for a year, then come back to work refreshed and happy to continue for another five to ten years at least. Maybe I’d still want to pursue early retirement, but maybe it would be when I’m fifty rather than forty. My job would retain me for another five to ten years, just by allowing me some time to work on myself.
I think a lot of folks might be in the same boat. How many of us early retirement seekers would stay with a job that we don’t mind if offered a little more freedom?
Many people might want to take a sabbatical to spend time with their families. The parental leave system in the US is atrocious. Most people only get the 6 weeks of unpaid maternity leave guaranteed by the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA leave) – which is ridiculous. Some women have to take unpaid leave for childbirth and return immediately if they want to keep getting paid.
I don’t think a sabbatical should replace maternity leave or paid parental leave. We need to do better as a society with how we treat and value parents. However, the birth of a child is not the only time parents may want to step away from work. Perhaps they want to be more involved during the teenage years or during that magical time between 8 and 12 where childhood is full of discovery and adventure. This is where a sabbatical could come into play. Parents could take time off to be with their families at the times that they deem most important.
It’s not just parents that would benefit from being able to take extended time off. Many people take care of elderly family members, and a sabbatical would help these folks as well. There are lots of ways that the option of sabbatical leave would help with work-life balance. Each person who takes a sabbatical would be able to use it however they see fit.
Taking time off can help with…professional development? Absolutely! Some folks may want to take a sabbatical to learn a new skill or pursue other creative activities. Some professors even take sabbaticals to conduct research in their fields or to teach at a different location. These activities can help with a person’s professional development and make them a better, more well-rounded employee.
Changing Our Work Culture on Sabbatical Leave
It won’t be easy to convince companies to start offering things like sabbaticals. Convincing an employer that allowing an employee to take a career break with full salary is a tough sell. However, it can be done. Workers can try asking for it in collective bargaining agreements. Individual employees can negotiate for one as a part of their full compensation package. Small wins, like an individual getting it, can show employers how successful it can be.
It’s time to take the power back from corporations and demand policies that allow us to enjoy our lives. A sabbatical is just one of the many things we can ask for to make our work culture more bearable. So, let’s add it to the list. Let’s fight for sabbaticals to be more commonplace and accepted.
Let’s have the opportunity to actually enjoy our lives!
Melanie launched Partners in Fire in 2017 to document her quest for financial independence with a mix of finance, fun, and solving the world’s problems. She’s self educated in personal finance and passionate about fighting systematic problems that prevent others from achieving their own financial goals. She also loves travel, anthropology, gaming and her cats.