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, a paid, extended leave of absence, offers just that. It’s a fading benefit that’s hard to find in this day and age, but the benefits far outweigh the cost for most professional industries.
Companies that offer sabbatical leave would attract and retain top talent and work wonders for countless employees’ work-life balance.
What is Sabbatical Leave?
A sabbatical is a break from work. Sabbatical leave is when an organization allows 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 differs from all other types of paid leave, including parental leave, annual leave, sick leave, and paid vacation time. Leave balances typically don’t account for sabbatical time, as it isn’t an accrued time off.
During a sabbatical, a person remains employed with their original place of business. However, they do not need to complete their traditional duties during their break.
Is Sabbatical Leave Paid?
A sabbatical can be paid or unpaid. With unpaid sabbatical leave, a company lets employees take extended time off and allows them to return to their job after. A leave of absence is a type of unpaid sabbatical.
Unfortunately, most employees can’t take advantage of unpaid sabbatical offerings. Bills don’t stop coming in, so workers can’t afford to take time off, even if companies offer it.
Paid sabbatical leave is the dream. In this scenario, employees get paid time off for their everyday 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 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 as most companies don’t offer it. The few businesses that do offer it limit it to long-term employees. You can’t start a job and take a six-month sabbatical immediately; your eligibility 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 is often longer.
Academia, as an industry, is known for offering sabbatical leave to professors, but the requirements are challenging to meet. An Employee must be a tenured professor to be eligible for a sabbatical. With many colleges using adjunct professors to meet their needs, finding full-time tenure-track positions in academia is getting harder and harder.
Sabbatical leave is a once-in-a-career perk. Employees can only take one sabbatical at any given organization during their career.
How Common is Sabbatical Leave?
Unfortunately, sabbatical leave, in general, is not that common. According to a 2017 Society of Human Resource Management study, only 17% of companies offered any sabbatical leave, and only 5% provided paid sabbatical leave.
The study showcases how rare sabbatical leave is. Most employees don’t have access to it. If they do, the odds are that it’s unpaid, making it nearly impossible to use.
Why Don’t More Companies Offer Sabbaticals?
Unfortunately, companies don’t want to lose a qualified employee for an extended period. Why offer a sabbatical when you would have to train and replace an employee while they are out?
On the surface, sabbatical leave is terrible for the bottom line. It doesn’t make good business sense to offer this perk.
These businesses are wrong. When you focus solely on the bottom line, you miss programs and ideas that benefit workers, improve morale, and increase overall productivity. Happy workers lead to improved retention, better outcomes, and lower higher and training costs.
Unfortunately, implementing policies that benefit workers, like sabbatical leave, would require a cultural shift. Our profit-driven 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. The toxic attitude only benefits those at the top, and the sooner we, as a nation, realize it and make a real effort to change things, the better off we will be.
Benefits like sabbatical leave would positively impact employees who can take it and companies that provide it.
The Benefits of Sabbatical Leave
It’s easy to see how a sabbatical would be great for employees. People would have time to pursue their interests, focus on their passions, create something, or learn new things. Some would spend the time traveling the world, learning more about other cultures and our shared history. Others would focus on self-improvement and take classes that will increase their understanding of how things work. The possibilities are endless.
It’s harder to identify ways this massive perk would help companies. Still, if you look beyond the finances, you will find many reasons businesses should consider offering it.
Here’s how offering a sabbatical can help achieve this and be a win-win for both employee and employer.
The most significant advantage for both employees and employers is that a sabbatical can help prevent burnout. Knowing you can take an extended break without affecting your job security would be a giant weight off an employee’s shoulders.
A workforce that isn’t suffering from severe burnout is a productive workforce. Not only does burnout decrease productivity, but it also leads to increased turnover, low engagement, and even adverse health impacts. All of these effects of burnout have negative repercussions on a business’s bottom line.
Although there are many causes of burnout and many options for preventing it, offering hard-working employees a much-needed, extended break is a possibility not often considered. It would, however, be a giant step towards alleviating burn-out.
While most companies value loyalty, they don’t offer anything to inspire it. According to the National Business Institute, lack of job security and feeling unappreciated are some of the top reasons employees dislike their jobs.
Workers fear random firings for little cause and assume the drive for profit may eventually put their jobs at risk. They don’t feel valued at work and feel their contributions aren’t appreciated.
Offering benefits such as paid sabbaticals can inspire loyalty. Workers would flock to a company willing to provide them with paid time to pursue their passions. They’d work harder to earn these benefits and give back to a company that supports their personal development.
Recruit and Retain the Best Employees
Retention goes hand in hand with loyalty. Employees who care about their company are more likely to stay with it. Employees who know they can take an extended break will be more inclined to stay when approaching burnout. Employee retention reduces overhead in hiring and training.
An amazing perk can also be a fantastic recruitment tool. A company offering non-standard benefits such as sabbatical leave will be highly sought after by potential employees. Top talent will compete for positions, allowing businesses to choose from the best and the brightest in their industries. Recruitment will be a breeze when you offer advantages that your competitors lack.
Professional development is essential in every industry. Many workplaces pay to send employees to conferences, training, and seminars to improve their skills. Often, the competencies addressed during these events aren’t specifically related to core job activities but help develop well-rounded employees or improve soft skills.
Employers don’t often consider that sabbatical leave can serve the same function. Some folks may want to take a sabbatical to learn a new skill or pursue other creative activities. Many professors take sabbaticals in academia to conduct research in their fields or teach at different locations.
Even if an employee’s activities during sabbatical aren’t explicitly related to their field, they can benefit the industry. An employee who takes an art class may learn how to think more creatively, while an employee who spends their time traveling may come back with a new appreciation for cultural diversity.
Many activities people pursue during an extended absence can lead to professional development and make them better, more well-rounded employees.
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 six weeks of unpaid maternity leave guaranteed by the Family and 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.
Sabbatical leave should not replace maternity leave or paid family 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 when childhood is full of discovery and adventure. Sabbatical leave might allow parents to take time off to be with their families when they deem it 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 many 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.
Instituting a sabbatical leave to help employees balance their work and their life would help companies retain the best employees for the life of their careers. Rather than quit to take care of family, employees will take a sabbatical, which is better for everyone.
A massive benefit to sabbatical leave for employees is time. An extended break from work would allow people to pursue things they are passionate about. Many people phone it in at work, counting the days till retirement so they can finally pursue their passion projects. What if they didn’t have to wait?
The Financial Independence movement offers workers an option. Rather than waiting until full retirement age to follow your dreams, you can scrimp and save during your first 20 working years, then retire early, living off your investments and chasing your dreams while still in the prime of your life.
Another option is the mini-retirement. With this method, workers give themselves a sabbatical. They quit their job to enjoy life for a few years, then rejoin the workforce later.
What if these folks didn’t have to quit? What if companies offered them the flexibility to work on their passion projects and enjoy their lives while remaining employed? How many FIRE seekers and mini-retirement proponents would stay at their jobs if they could have the best of both worlds?
Giving employees the freedom and flexibility to pursue their passions would also benefit companies. Employees would be happier, more productive, and have improved skill sets.
Changing Our Work Culture on Sabbatical Leave
Persuading companies to offer sabbatical leave isn’t an easy task. Allowing employees to take a career break with a 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 total compensation package or broach the conversation with their department heads. Small wins, like an individual getting it, can show employers how successful it can be, and pave the way for future offerings.
It’s time to take 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 fight for the opportunity to 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.