Sabbatical leave refers to an extended break from work, typically several months to a year. Currently, there are no laws requiring organizations to offer this benefit. Each company sets their policy. Sabbatical leave can be fully paid or unpaid, depending on the company policy. For instance, some bigger IT organizations and consultancy companies allow fully paid sabbatical leave. In most cases, it is not regularized, and employees are happy to take the leave even without pay with the assurance that they have a job to return to.
Sabbatical leave stems from academia, particularly in American colleges, to attract faculty members. Professors or teachers in the past had the chance to take a semester off, known as a sabbatical. This was mainly to teach elsewhere, pursue further studies, or work on existing projects. However, with time, sabbatical leave has become less restrictive and more focused on personal well-being, exploration of different interests, and even travel.
A 2018 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey shows that at least 15% of employers started offering sabbatical leave as a workplace benefit. As of 2019, just 16% of companies offered sabbatical leave, according to SHRM, and only 5% of those were paid sabbatical leaves.
Apart from the United States, the sabbatical leave policy is still quite substantial in some countries. For example, Canadian universities offer employees pre-tenure leave and fully paid one-year sabbaticals after six years of service.
Research findings suggest that while the sabbatical leave is generally considered a positive tool for enhancing faculty morale, the outcomes of the sabbaticals vary. A notable study compared 129 university professors who took a sabbatical leaves in a given term with 129 equally qualified colleagues who did not. Both groups were surveyed before, during, and after the term to assess stress levels, psychological resources, and overall life satisfaction. The researchers found that, on average, those who took sabbaticals experienced a 20% reduction in stress levels.
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What are examples of sabbatical leave?
There are different examples of sabbatical leave. Sabbatical leave can be taken for various purposes, including personal reasons, professional and academic growth, learning and development of new skills, or rest and recuperation – while maintaining their status as an existing employee. Sabbatical leave in academia usually occurs every seventh year. Rather, they are a replacement for teaching and service for a period to devote oneself entirely to developing a new and transformative project, whether writing a book, conducting fieldwork abroad, or learning new teaching pedagogies.
Here are some examples of sabbatical leave ranked from the most common to the least:
Sabbatical leave can be used to take a break from work and focus on personal well-being, such as getting enough sleep, exercising, or spending time with family and friends. Travelling and exploring new places is a great way for an employee to utilize sabbatical leave time to recharge and gain new perspectives. Exploring new places can recharge one's mindset and mentality, giving them a broader perspective towards life and work. Disconnecting can provide a much-needed mental break from daily work routines and obligations.
Employees often take sabbatical leave to pursue personal interests, such as travelling, volunteering, or engaging in professional development activities.
Sabbatical leave allows employees to reflect on their career paths, explore new interests, and gain clarity on their professional goals. Continuing education is a very common reason why employees take sabbatical leave. For example, taking new courses or attending conferences to learn new skills or enhance existing ones. New courses, certifications, and training programs allow employees to build their skillset and knowledge in relevant areas that could benefit their work upon returning. This can help them grow their career and take on new responsibilities.
Sabbatical leave can help employees achieve a better work-life balance by allowing them to take time off to focus on personal priorities, such as spending more time with family or pursuing hobbies. Inner work can focus on personal growth and development, such as practising mindfulness, meditation, or therapy. Inner work explores an employee's inner experiences and thoughts within the context of their work. Inner work can be harder to understand and do because one may lack a clear picture of their inner experiences in the first place. Without coaching, therapy or spiritual practice, an employee may not even realize there is Inner Work to be done.
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5. Avoiding burnout:
Sabbatical leave can be a preventive measure against burnout by providing employees with a break from work-related stress and responsibilities. Some companies like LinkedIn, Nike and the dating site Bumble give every worker an extra week away for vacation.
Research suggests that sabbatical leave can lead to increased well-being, improved mental health, and enhanced psychological resources, such as a sense of control, independence, and professional knowledge.
Sabbatical leave can inspire employees to develop new ideas and approaches, benefiting both the employee and the organization.
Taking a sabbatical leave can be ideal for gaining new skills. Without the usual pressures and obligations, extra free time can give the focused attention needed for learning something new. Whether writing a book or peer-reviewed publication, developing a business plan, or pursuing a hobby, having more free time can be invaluable for acquiring skills that improve life and work.
Related: What is Bereavement Leave?
While the statistics on sabbatical leaves may vary, results suggest that sabbaticals are becoming increasingly popular for companies to attract and retain employees, reduce burnout, and facilitate increased work-life balance. The various examples of sabbatical leave shared in this article bear testimony to the growth and importance of sabbatical leave in the workplace. It's important to note that the specific activities during sabbatical leave may vary depending on the company policy and the employee's goals and interests.
Frequently asked questions about the sabbatical leave
What is sabbatical leave?
Sabbatical leave is an extended period away from work that is granted to an employee for varying purposes, including personal reasons, professional and academic growth, learning and development of new skills, or rest and recuperation – while maintaining their status as an existing employee This can be paid or unpaid depending on the organization's policy.
How do I provide a sabbatical to an employee?
The process of providing sabbatical leave to an employee may vary depending on the company policy. However, it typically involves submitting a request for sabbatical leave to the HR department, outlining the purpose and duration of the leave.
Is sabbatical leave a paid or unpaid leave?
The sabbatical leave policy may vary depending on the company policy. Some companies offer fully paid sabbatical leaves, while others offer unpaid leaves. It's important to check the specific policy with the company's HR department.
How long can an employee take sabbatical leave?
The duration of a sabbatical leave may vary depending on the company policy. Some companies offer sabbatical leaves for a few weeks, while others offer several months. It's important to check the specific policy with the company's HR department.
What are some examples of activities during sabbatical leave?
Some examples of activities during sabbatical leave include continuing education, writing a book or peer-reviewed publication, conducting focused research, travelling, rest and recuperation, and Inner Work.
What are the benefits of sabbatical leave for employees and organizations?
Sabbatical leave can have tremendous benefits for workplace productivity, including increased creativity, renewed energy, and improved morale. Sabbaticals and extended vacation time are not just good for employees to rest and recharge — they benefit the organization by stress-testing the organizational chart and providing interim roles to allow aspiring employees to take on more leadership. Various research papers suggest that sabbatical leave can benefit both employees and organizations. Carr (2005) found that sabbaticals can improve employee motivation and morale, and Wildman (2012) found that sabbaticals can benefit institutions and their employees. Otto (2011) compared the use of sabbatical leave in general higher education, industry, and professional-technical/community college environments and found that sabbaticals can enhance organizational commitment. Sima (2000) reviewed the relationship between sabbatical leave and the development and satisfaction of faculty. Overall, the papers suggest that sabbatical leave can be a valuable tool for employee development, retention, and organizational success.