What is sabbatical leave?
Sabbatical leave is when a person takes a period of time off work, usually after working for the same employer for a certain length of time (like a few years). It’s often referred to as “taking a sabbatical”.
The purpose is to allow employees to take a well deserved break and explore other interests. That might mean studying, travelling or simply relaxing. Sabbatical leave can either be paid or unpaid, although employers are under no obligation to offer paid time off.
In the UK, while most employers aren’t legally required to offer sabbaticals, many offer them as an incentive as part of their employee benefits package.
What are the types of sabbatical leave?
Employers can choose from a few different models of sabbatical leave. The type you choose might depend on the size of your organisation, the type of people you employ, and the reason you’re offering the benefit in the first place.
Here are some of the different types of sabbatical:
- The one-time sabbatical - This is a one-off leave of absence, usually taken after an employee has worked for a certain length of time at a company. This period of leave can range from a few weeks to a few months, and can be paid or unpaid. For example, as a business you might offer employees who’ve worked for you for 10 years a sabbatical of 6 months’ leave at 50% pay.
- The recurring sabbatical - This involves taking an extended period of leave from work on a regular basis. Some businesses might offer their employees the option of taking a sabbatical every two years, for instance (lucky them!). This can be beneficial for those who would benefit from a break from work, but don’t necessarily want to leave the organisation. For example, new parents who want to spend time with their children might prefer this type of sabbatical.
- The voluntary sabbatical - This involves employees voluntarily taking extended periods of unpaid leave from their jobs. This is often used to pursue personal projects or interests – trekking in South America or starting a business on the side, for example.
The benefits of sabbatical leave
The benefits associated with offering sabbatical leave are wide ranging.
One of the most significant is that it can help to improve employee morale and productivity. Those who take sabbaticals are likely to return to work feeling refreshed and energised, which can lead to them approaching work with a higher level of motivation. In fact, Harvard Business Review found that employees who returned from a sabbatical – as opposed to those who continued to work – experienced reduced stress levels and better overall wellbeing. (For more ideas on how to avoid stress and burnout, check out our handy guide.)
Plus, taking a sabbatical often opens people up to new ideas and ways of thinking, which could benefit your business. For example, if an employee uses their time off to volunteer, they might grow as a person and learn new ways of facing challenges, which can feed into their working lives.
Then there’s the fact that it’s becoming increasingly popular among workers. For example, a study found that a massive 62% of employees would take a sabbatical if it was an option for them. And can you blame them? It’s the perfect solution to staying in full-time employment while taking some time out to enjoy yourself. Keeping your employees happy is the secret to retaining your brightest talent, so it’s no wonder more companies are considering adding sabbatical leave to their benefits package.
If you’re thinking of offering sabbatical leave, remember to have the right systems and records in place so that employees are treated fairly and equally. This could include recording the terms of leave offered, the departure and return date for each employee, as well as their holiday allowance and the terms of their continuity of employment. Try one of our policy templates if you’re not sure where to start.
It’s also important to stay in touch with those on leave – keeping them in the loop will make the return to work easier and let them know that they haven’t been forgotten!